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Our Voices Are the Biggest Winners of the UN COP26 Climate Summit

Glasgow Sustainability
by Noelle Alejandra Salmi Nov 12, 2021

This is The Climate Win, the most positive sustainability news around the world every week.

As the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or the COP26, winds down, a final agreement is expected soon. While it won’t contain everything we’d like it to, some last-minute wording has been added and it means one thing: the voices of climate activists are sinking in.

Energizing climate voices

This week, Greta Thunberg and other activists called on the United Nations to declare a state of emergency, The New York Times reported. Considering the lack of urgency with which many world leaders have approached our warming Earth, the plea was necessary. The good news is that it looks like the message, underlined by tens of thousands of protestors filing through the streets of Glasgow, has been heard.

According to The Guardian, the latest iteration of the Cop26 draft agreement says that the section titled “Science” has been amended to “Science and urgency.” [emphasis added]. A bullet point below that title has strengthened the sentence about “alarm and concern” about human activities’ negative effects on the climate to “alarm and utmost concern” [emphasis added]. The changes may seem small, but adding those two key words to a short document means those words matter and that the hard work of Thunberg, other activists, and everyone marching in the streets, is having an impact. And it should motivate them and all of us to keep speaking out.

Even though the negotiators in Glasgow didn’t call climate change a planetary state of emergency, they’re doing what they can to produce a document that every country can sign and that asserts loud and clear the need for us all to act now.

Fossil fuels are called out

Here’s a shocker: Fossil fuels have never been explicitly mentioned in the United Nations climate talks, a result of political pressure by oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia. This time around, as Reuters points out, it was looking likely that the final draft of the COP26 would finally state that the use of fossil fuels needs to be curtailed, and quickly. However, due again to pressure from certain countries, this has been toned down to refer instead to unabated coal power generation — that coal power that doesn’t use modern technologies like carbon capture to reduce emissions — as well as “inefficient” subsidies for fossil fuels.

Sure seems like a COP-out, appropriately enough, given the name of the conference. In fact, it’s important to note that, for once, fossil fuels as a cause of climate change is being officially named. More importantly, by calling out subsidies, perhaps we can finally start addressing the obscene amounts of money handed over to some of the richest and most polluting companies in the world. In fact, according to Generation 180, nearly six trillion dollars subsidized the burning of fossil fuels last year, and it’s time for that to end.

Financing for poor countries

As The Guardian notes, developed countries have been reluctant to give more money to poorer countries, which are being asked to forego the very same fossil fuels that allowed wealthy countries to modernize decades earlier. Many poor countries will also disproportionately suffer the effects of a warming planet, so additional funds for these countries must be part of the solution. One new element in the text of the Cop26 is that it urges not just wealthy countries, but “other Parties” to also provide support to less wealthy nations.

The text may seem impossibly vague, and it undoubtedly is, but it also means that countries that are still considered “developing” but have big economies — China, in particular, notes The Guardian — can be called on to provide support to smaller economies. It’s a shaky premise for optimism, but getting the support of countries too poor to abandon oil in favor of still-pricey reusables will be critical in the fight to phase out fossil fuels.

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