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COP26 - a win for the planet or just wishy washy politics?

Our response to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference

Current eventsSocial Issues
By VoiceBox ·

VoiceBox

For young people, by young people.

COP26 - a win for the planet or just wishy washy politics?

Illustration above created by Mary Flora Hart - see more of Mary's work here.

“I feel like these conferences aren’t doing much”. An easily generalised quote which could be related to everyday business meetings or paid-for events. But this is in fact what one of our young ambassadors told us when we asked them what they thought of COP26.

And now COP26 has drawn to a close, it’s safe to say that we’re inclined to agree with them. 

There’s been an awful lot of talking in the last few years. What feels like false promises floating around with no real intention to fulfil them. And COP26 has only strengthened this narrative, drawing in criticism from many experts. 

First and foremost, it’s important to acknowledge that, according to research, we are very much on track to cook our planet into oblivion by the end of this century. What we don’t understand is that despite this shocking revelation, world leaders are still dragging their feet when it comes to undoing the damage that will soon make our world inhabitable. 

It’s understandable that some countries are unable to make the same pledges that others can. Hugely systematic issues means there are communities who can’t simply stop using fossil fuels, or go vegan, or reduce plastic waste. We must be careful when accusing others, as climate action, no matter how well intentioned, is a very privileged position to take. 

Leaders have appeared to have taken this point somewhat seriously, with the COP26 draft agreement softening its language from “urge” to “request” NDC revisions. While we welcome this change on behalf of disadvantaged countries, once again, we must question what genuine action richer countries will take to help those less able. 

We have seen at least one example of such social movements at COP26. Amazingly, more than 100 world leaders have agreed to reverse deforestation by 2030, with a backing of £14bn in funds. Some of this money will go to disadvantaged countries, to restore damaged land and help tackle wildfires. It’s hard not to wonder why we haven’t seen more examples of genuine communal spirit such as this as the past few days have unfolded. 

Young people have echoed our thoughts, with many expressing dismay over the lack of progress COP26 has shown. One such young person is Greta Thunberg, who said that the conference had “turned into a PR event, where leaders are giving beautiful speeches and announcing fancy commitments and targets, while behind the curtains governments of the Global North countries are still refusing to take any drastic climate action.”

It seems to us that there are a lot of wishy washy political declarations in order to win the favour of the press and public. Only time will tell as to whether these declarations actually mount to anything, but next year’s climate change COP in Egypt will be a good indicator. It’s good to see a frequent follow-up, particularly one that will heavily represent the African continent. We hope that COP27 will see even more global depictions – rather than just listening to richer world leaders make pledges they might not keep. 

And the biggest positive? Young people. It has been wonderful to see so many young people getting involved with COP26 and calling for climate action, whether in Glasgow or on social media. We hope that world leaders will genuinely listen to and make changes based on what they have to say, rather than just offer a round of applause and a pat on the back. Young people are the future, and it’s time to start taking them seriously.

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