COP26: 3 ways the Glasgow Climate Pact fails us - and excludes justice

After two long weeks of negotiations at COP26, the United Nations Climate Talks, the Glasgow Climate Pact was signed. Unfortunately, it didn’t deliver the ambitious, bold and justice-led solutions to the climate crisis that we needed. We unpack the promises made and compare them to what’s needed to tackle the climate catastrophe we’re facing.
  Published:  16 Nov 2021    |      4 minute read

1. The Pact doesn’t get us on track to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees

To prevent the very worst impacts of climate breakdown, we must keep global temperature levels below 1.5 degrees.

The Glasgow Climate Pact claims to keep the critical “1.5C global warming goal alive” – a misleading message that’s saturating the media. Alive – but it’s basically comatose. The Pact doesn’t get the world on track for keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. It neither delivers the emissions cuts needed from Global North countries, nor the crucial finance needed for Global South countries to do the same. 

The Global North/South divide refers to the gap in development and wealth between countries. The Global North refers to wealthier countries that are mainly in the northern hemisphere (but includes Australia and New Zealand). While the Global South refers to countries that have a relatively lower level of development and wealth. It’s not a perfect system, as relatively wealthy countries like Botswana (which has a high GDP per capita) appears in the Global South, and Ukraine that sits in the Global North, is among the poorest of countries. So, these days the use of the terms more often relates to how many countries in the Global North built their wealth from the labour and resources of many countries in the Global South. 

There’s a real missed opportunity to meaningfully reduce emissions in the Global North. The Pact mentions that we need to ‘phase down’ coal but doesn’t mention any other fossil fuels such gas or oil. The Global North need pave the way and put an end to the use of fossil fuels now. Instead, the Pact focusses on getting emissions to net zero by mid-century, essentially allowing countries and corporations to go on polluting for decades, completely out of step with a pathway to 1.5 degrees.

The road to 1.5 degrees just got harder when these talks should have cleared the way to making it a whole lot easier. Rather than agreeing to cut emissions off at the source, dangerous distractions such as offsetting techniques, dodgy carbon accounting tricks and un-proven technologies play a big role.

Protesters with one holding a large flag which reads 'No to dirty energy'
Credit: Megan Barclay

2. The Pact fails to deliver on loss and damage

Glasgow saw a huge push from the public on loss and damage finance.

A term that describes irreparable loss and damage caused by the climate crisis that can’t be fixed or prevented. Loss and damage have devastating consequences for people, livelihoods, homes and territory as well as the less obvious impacts such as losing culture and biodiversity.   

An example of this is impacts from extreme weather, drought or rising sea levels creating climate refugees – where people are forced  to leave their homes because of environmental changes which risk their lives or livelihoods.

This money is badly needed to address the increased risk faced by countries in the Global South, to finance services such as providing compensation for losses, adequate climate information, risks and needs assessments as well financial tools to support social protection schemes.

Years and years of systemic, structural racism and colonialism has left the Global South extremely vulnerable to the impacts of the climate breakdown. In the last 60 years, the Global North has drained $152tn from the Global South, with human labour and stolen natural resources making up a large portion of that figure. In other words, the wealthiest countries today can only afford the infrastructure that protects them from the worst of climate breakdown, because they stole from the countries that cannot afford to build those same infrastructures now.

The climate finance and reparations so desperately needed by the countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis has been delayed again by the wealthiest nations. This money is also critical for adaptation – to assist countries in protecting themselves against the devastating impacts they’re already facing, but are set to get worse, and to assist their emissions reductions.

3. The complexity and urgency of phasing out fossil fuels isn’t properly addressed

The conversation around fossil fuels is finally shifting in the right direction. For the first time ever, phasing out fossil fuels has been recognised as necessary. 20+ countries committed to ending public financing of fossil fuels by the end of 2022. This means that national leaders grasp the scale of the fossil fuels problem, even if they don’t agree how fast to act.

It’s been refreshing to hear discussions on how fast things can happen, not whether they should. But we’re still left with the big question about the ultimate future of fossil fuels, when the agreement should have been to rapidly phase them out.

Climate justice and climate change go hand-in-hand

A protest with a banner that read 'Climate justice for all'
Credit: Megan Barclay

If we want to stop the climate crisis, we need climate justice. Climate justice is about acknowledging and addressing that some people are hit by the climate crisis harder than others. We’re all entitled to live in a world where we’re fairly protected and considered when faced with the worst impacts of climate change, irrespective of who we are and where we live. We need to remember that emissions are a global problem, and need a global solution.

For the Global South to submit more ambitious targets for reducing emissions, rich countries like the UK and USA need to scale up funding to help them mitigate and adapt, as well as creating a proper climate reparations fund for the loss and damage caused by climate breakdown. The Global North, who have the most historic responsibility for the climate crisis, need to lead by example by phasing out fossil fuels.

We also need to make sure the process is equitable – as circumstances differ from place to place. For example, coal, one of the worlds most used fossil fuels, has taken centre stage at COP26. The media has criticised India for insisting a “phase down” of coal, not a “phase out”, which ignores the fact that India called for all fossil fuels to be phased down in an equitable manner.

Protesters staged a protest against the proposed coal mine in Kendal. Image courtesy of Henry Adams.
Protesters staged a protest against the proposed coal mine in Kendal. Image courtesy of Henry Adams.
Credit: Image courtesy of Henry Adams

Here in the UK, a country with huge historical responsibility for emissions, the government can end its hypocrisy by stopping support for a mega gas project in Mozambique, pull the plug on the Cambo oil field, reject the proposed new coal mine in Cumbria, as well as oil drilling in Surrey.

We need to be understanding of the timelines needed to phase out fossil fuels in the Global South if wealthier nations aren’t going to step up, and make sure it’s a fair process. India relies on coal for 70% of its energy and requires international financial support to make the transition to clean energy solutions.

This is just one example. The climate movement has proven time and time again that it’s not fair or just. The most recent example being COP26 itself – where we saw indigenous communities excluded from discussions, disabled people unable to participate because of the most basic access requirements not being met, and queues overflowing preventing many people from accessing the talks. We saw the cost of accommodation in Glasgow rocket, meaning those with limited income had to no means to participate.

In order to create real change, we need to be meaningfully inclusive of everyone impacted by the climate crisis.

We won’t stop fighting for better, and neither should you

A protest flag close-up that says 'people power now'
Credit: Megan Barclay

There’s no getting around the fact the Glasgow Climate Pact is nowhere near good enough, but we can’t give up the fight, because the climate crisis was never going to be fixed in 2 weeks. The UN climate talks are important but they’re not the only chance for change – just look at the wins we’ve had in the past few years outside of conference centres.

While COP26 may be over, the climate crisis continues as a part of daily life for increasing numbers of people. We must now keep the pressure up and ensure more ambitious progress is made between now and the next summit.

The incredible demonstrations of people power around the world during the Global Day of Action, which brought millions of people together, are a real sign that collectively, we won’t let our futures be cast aside so easily.

Countries can now choose to break away from the pack, and let history judge the laggards.

Nobody should lose their home, livelihood or life because of inaction on climate