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COP26: Sharma apologises to COP delegates for downbeat ending to climate summit

14 November 2021


Alok Sharma, COP26 president, acknowledges applause at the end of the closing plenary on Saturday

Alok Sharma, COP26 president, acknowledges applause at the end of the closing plenary on Saturday

THE Glasgow climate summit ended on Saturday evening with the COP president, Alok Sharma, holding back tears as the intense two weeks of negotiations resulted in a new global agreement.

For the first time, a COP decision explicitly outlined the phasing down of coal and the ending of fossil-fuel subsidies. Developing countries and campaigners were unhappy, however, at the watering down of the final agreement, and at the lack of financial and other support pledged by rich countries to help those on the front line of the crisis.

The world is already experiencing 1.1ºC of global heating above pre-industrial levels, and the 2015 Paris Agreement set out the goal of limiting this to 1.5ºC, a level which, scientists have warned, will still cause much suffering to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

Before this COP, current policies meant the world was heading for global heating of 2.7ºC by the end of the century. This has been now been lowered to 2.4ºC, according to the latest projections from researchers at Climate Action Tracker. It is hoped that greater progress will be made over the next 12 months before COP27, which is to be held in Egypt.

Dr Ruth Valerio, director of advocacy and influencing at Tearfund, said: “Despite some steps forward, the world is on track for 2.4ºC of global heating — subjecting millions more people to extreme heat and dangerous weather. The climate crisis is here, and people are already suffering.

“COP26 failed to deliver on long overdue promises, or heed the loud cries of climate-vulnerable nations for any support in the face of increasing climate disasters. Whilst the pledges made at this summit have put some hope for a future below 2ºC on the table, right now these are just words.

“We urgently need richer nations to turn this into reality, coming back in 2022 with 1.5ºC-aligned climate commitments, consigning all dirty fossil fuels to the history books, and finally stumping up the long overdue $100 billion a year to help vulnerable countries adjust to a more unpredictable and dangerous future.”

Amanda Mukwashi, CEO of Christian Aid, said that the summit had shown that the movement calling for climate justice was only growing stronger. “Throughout COP26, people of faith have united with activists from the Global South, feminists, youth, and indigenous people to demand climate justice. Our movement has never been stronger, and this must be the legacy from Glasgow to keep hope alive.”

The gavel came down on the Glasgow Climate Pact on Saturday evening, 24 hours after the summit was supposed to have concluded. In recent years, the talks have regularly exceeded the time limit (the last meeting to finish on schedule was COP12 in Nairobi in 2006).

The last-minute wrangling saw India, supported by China, demanding that the final wording be changed from committing to “phase out” coal power to “phase down”. This late change meant that India was seen as the villain of the meeting, undermining the goodwill generated by its announcement in the first week when it pledged to reach net zero by 2070 and generate 500GW of non-fossil-fuel electricity by 2030.

The watering down of the language on coal led Mr Sharma to say he was “deeply sorry. . . May I just say to all delegates I apologise for the way this process has unfolded. I also understand the deep disappointment but I think, as you have noted, it’s also vital that we protect this package.”

The UN secretary-general, António Guterres, said that the world needed to go “into emergency mode”, to end fossil-fuel subsidies, phase out coal, put a price on carbon, protect vulnerable communities, and deliver the still overdue $100 billion climate-finance commitment.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress.” To young people and indigenous communities he said: “I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward.”

It is hoped that the next meeting, held on African soil, may better reflect the needs of those facing the impacts of climate change. Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Africa senior policy advisor, from Kenya, said: “All eyes now turn to COP27 in Africa, which needs to do much more to put the priorities of the global south above those of the rich world and corporate profits. Hopefully, a COP led by an African nation can better prioritise the needs of those who live and experience the devastating impacts of the climate crisis every day.”

In London on Saturday, four Christians were arrested for blocking a road in front of the Lord Mayor’s Show, and pouring fake oil over themselves in front of St Paul’s Cathedral. The members of Christian Climate Action were protesting at the annual cultural event put on by London’s financial district and against the Church of England for not disinvesting from fossil fuels.

An Anglican, Ben Buse, was one of those arrested. He said he objected that the Church of England and the City of London prioritised profit from fossil fuels over the future of children. “Church, city, and state are ensnared in fossil fuels. We need to break free. The Church needs to be prophetic in speaking truth to city and state, in divesting from fossil fuels, and removing the legitimacy it blesses the industry with. If we are serious about safeguarding biodiversity, future generations and the countries most affected there can be no fossil fuel developments.”

Also on Saturday, the diocese of Durham heeded the call from campaigners and announced it will not invest in companies making significant revenues from fossil fuels. The motion was passed unanimously by the diocesan synod. James Morgan, the diocesan secretary, said: “As we have heard from COP26, we are facing a climate emergency, and it’s up to all of us to do what we can to protect this planet for future generations. Where we invest funds as a diocese, we will be making sure they are not invested in companies profiting significantly from the extraction of fossil fuels, whether it be oil, gas, or coal.”

James Buchanan, Bright Now campaign manager for Operation Noah, described the move as “wonderful news” and hoped that it would give a lead to many other C of E dioceses.

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