Over the past week, 120 world leaders and representatives from 200 countries have been meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference. While the summit appears to be progressing successfully, activists emphasize that more direct action is necessary.
The COP26 climate summit comes at a time when the effects of climate change are becoming more and more pronounced. Much of the damage caused by global warming has occurred in the global south, but Western countries have seen a slew of climate-related catastrophes this year.
In February, winter storms swept across the United States, freezing much of the country under inches of ice. Despite being along the southern border, Texas wasn’t spared. The ice storm devastated the state’s lackluster privatized power grid, forcing Texans to survive without power for weeks. Hundreds of people died, while damages cost the state more than $20 billion.
In June, a heatwave struck the Pacific Northwest, causing severe damage to parts of the United States and Canada. Temperatures reached 121.3°F, the highest ever recorded in Canada, causing wildfires and widespread devastation. Over 1,500 people died, while total damage costs remain unknown.
A step in the right direction
Under pressure from activists and the reality that the climate is changing, countries appear to be taking steps in the right direction at this year’s climate summit.
For example, more than 100 countries have agreed to end deforestation practices by 2030. This agreement now includes countries like Brazil and Indonesia who didn’t agree to it in the past. As these 100 countries contain 85% of the world’s forests, the agreement appears to be something worth celebrating.
Other promising steps include many countries promising to phase out of coal, India and Japan setting specific net-zero deadlines, and the U.S. and other nations agreeing to limit methane emissions.
Dragging their feet in the sand
However, progress always happens in leaps and bounds, and some countries appear hesitant to take the necessary steps to curtail carbon emissions.
South Africa, South Korea, Chile, Poland, and several other nations agreed to phase out of carbon. As these countries are some of the biggest users of coal, it’s a step forward. However, the biggest users of the fuel are the United States, India, and China—none of which agreed to any sort of restrictive measure.
Likewise, many wealthy nations have set ambitious deadlines in the past in accordance with climate resolutions. 2023 was a deadline that many countries had, but it doesn’t seem that most will make it.
While world leaders and representatives meet behind closed doors, climate activists like Greta Thunberg are outside demanding more. Many activists and people protesting feel let down by their governments. They know that they have a history of making bold, promising speeches, only to ultimately not deliver.
Thunberg criticized leaders for “pretending to take out future seriously,” then went on to say that “Change is not going to come from inside there. That is not leadership, this is leadership.”
Many are also criticizing the carbon footprint of the COP26 climate summit. Hundreds of private jets chartered leaders and representatives to the event, generating more emissions in a single day than most people generate in a year.
If world leaders want to be taken seriously, it’s clear that they’ll need to put their money where their mouth is.