Principal's Blog

Hope for the climate at COP 26

Joining under the banner of “Uniting the World to Tackle Climate Change”, delegates have been meeting in Glasgow over the last fortnight at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26). COP 26 is billed on its website as “an event many believe to be the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.” 

At COP 21 in 2015, the Paris Agreement was established. This saw the participant countries acknowledge the urgency of taking significant action to reduce emissions and set targets aiming to limit global warming to within 1.5°C-2°C of pre-industrial levels.

The ostensibly modest temperature variation target belies a catastrophic range of consequences that are predicted to flow if this target is not met. If emissions continue unabated the likely outcomes would make much of the planet uninhabitable and would drastically diminish the lives and livelihoods of humans worldwide. We would suffer extreme weather events, sea level rises causing flooding of low-lying areas, challenges in sustaining food and water security and a surge in economic and health crises flowing from climate change and associated political instability.

Preceding COP 26, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the AR6 report which unequivocally determined that human activity has contributed to Climate Change and stated that the 1.5°C lower threshold proposed at Paris is expected to be exceeded some time between 2028 and 2035. 

As such, COP 26 has taken on a new level of urgency with a significant global push to adopt targets which will ensure that we take the necessary measures that will maintain the health and livability of our planet.There has been some much needed positive momentum stemming from COP 26. Some analysis has suggested that if the international community are held accountable to the pledges made at, and preceding, the conference, then there is a reasonable chance that 2°C will not be exceeded.

While it may seem bleak to be celebrating a “reasonable chance,” this is a vast improvement on previous modelling which had the target being exceeded. 
An NGO called Climate Resource has undertaken analysis of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which each country uses to establish their climate emissions targets. It has shown that the impact of the recent surge in countries pledging to achieve net zero emissions would significantly alter the projected temperature increase. While prior to COP 26, their projection was sitting at 2.7°C, the pledges, if fulfilled, reduces the modelling to 1.9°C. 

While it must be noted that some countries’ pledges rely on technologies that are yet to be proven capable of delivering, there has, nonetheless, been an undeniable momentum shift that has seen many nations adopt pledges that will make a difference. There is now a coalition of 130 nations who have committed to achieving net zero. Furthermore, there have been calls from influential nations to prioritise greater targets for 2030 as there is an understanding that the later that emissions are reduced, the lower the chances are of containing global warming. 

Part of the powerful momentum generated at COP 26 was due to impassioned speeches delivered by a range of delegates. One that gathered headlines was that of Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, who delivered his televised address knee-deep in water to emphasise the impending threat his nation was facing as a result of sea-level rises. 

Another extraordinary contribution was made by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Amor Mottley. I would like to finish with her words: “Our world, my friends, stands at a fork in the road … And if our existence is to mean anything, then we must act in the interest of all of our people who are dependent on us. And if we don’t, we will allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction. The leaders of today – not 2030; not 2050 – must make this choice. It is in our hands. And our people and our planet need it more than ever … Code red! Code red! … For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen, and for those who have a heart to feel: 1.5 °C is what we need to survive, 2 °C … is a death sentence … We do not want that dreaded death sentence. And we have come here to say: ‘Try harder.’ Try harder because our people, the climate army, the world, the planet, need our actions now – not next year, not in the next decade.

Shabbat Shalom,