You are here

Phased down and out at COP26

By Stephen Smellie - Unison, November 15, 2021

As proceedings ended at COP26 late on Saturday night, the Glasgow Climate Pact joined a long list of previous agreements, arrived at by world leaders, that have failed to ensure global temperatures stop rising.

The sum of all the commitments given before and during the two-week jamboree is that the Earth is heading for a 2.4 degree increase rather than being held back to 1.5 degrees. This, according to the prime minister of Barbados, will be a death sentence for many small island communities.

COP president Alok Sharma claims that the 1.5 target is still alive; but as many people have said, it is on life support and slipping away.

The hopes for COP26 were high. The stakes were even higher. The science is clear – if we do not cut the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2 and methane by significant amounts by 2030 we will not meet the target of being net zero by 2050 and the planet will overshoot 1.5 by some way.

As an official observer at COP26 with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), I was privileged to spend the second week in the COP26 blue zone, working with a team of trade unionists from across the globe.

The ITUC’s aims were to lobby the government representatives to ensure that the historic commitment in the Paris Agreement to “ensure Just Transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” was retained in the final Glasgow agreement. That was achieved.

However, the lobbying of the ITUC, along with other NGOs and many Global South countries, to secure the $100 billion for mitigation and adaptation in the developing countries by 2020, a mechanism for paying for loss and damage for the impact of climate change that is already happening, and a clear intention to reduce emissions, was not successful.

It is true that the Glasgow Climate Pact recognises, for the first time, the need to address the use of fossil fuels, but it does not set any targets, relying on countries to improve on their existing plans to reduce the burning of climate changing fossil fuels. However, in the final hours, even the limited commitment to “phase-out the use of unabated coal” was watered down by an amendment from China and India to change “phase out” to “phase down”.

The inclusion of the word “unabated” was controversial. This gives the green-light to continue to build coal-powered energy capacity, in the hope that ‘carbon capture and storage’ technology is developed sufficiently to be able to extract the CO2 emissions produced by coal. This is a technology that so far does not exist beyond experimental and test sites.

The two Asian countries have been heavily criticised for this – rightly so in my opinion – but it was the EU and USA that effectively gave the green light for this change and whose refusal earlier, to commit to reducing their own commitments to more gas and oil exploration and extraction, meant that lowering emissions was not included in the pact.

Trade unions, climate change campaigners, indigenous peoples, farmers, women and young people lobbying for a better agreement, alongside the island countries and others in the Global South, were essentially begging for crumbs from the rich nations’ tables.

In the end, that is what they got. The crumbs of promises of financing at some time in the future, of discussions on a mechanism for loss and damage, and the hope that 1.5 could be brought off life-support and kept alive at next years COP, or maybe the one after that.

The frustration of the observers was such that they organised their own People’s Plenary on Friday to enable their voices to be heard – voices that had been excluded from many of the proceedings. Moving speeches were given from all of the observer constituencies, spelling out the reality of climate change happening now and spelling out their demands. The plenary was ended with a symbolic walk-out through the conference centre, singing and chanting, to join thousands of protesters outside the high security fences of the COP.

It is obvious that world leaders are not yet sufficiently prepared to take the necessary decisions to cut emissions – and that the movement that was represented by 150,000 people on the streets of Glasgow needs to continue to put pressure on our own politicians to ensure that at next year’s COP, in Egypt, they demand the immediate action required to stop catastrophic climate change.

UNISON, with the launch during COP26 of our Getting to net zero in public services report, is key to building this movement for climate action in our workplaces, communities and in the wider political debates.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author.

The Fine Print I:

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) unless otherwise indicated and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s, nor should it be assumed that any of these authors automatically support the IWW or endorse any of its positions.

Further: the inclusion of a link on our site (other than the link to the main IWW site) does not imply endorsement by or an alliance with the IWW. These sites have been chosen by our members due to their perceived relevance to the IWW EUC and are included here for informational purposes only. If you have any suggestions or comments on any of the links included (or not included) above, please contact us.

The Fine Print II:

Fair Use Notice: The material on this site is provided for educational and informational purposes. It may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. It is being made available in an effort to advance the understanding of scientific, environmental, economic, social justice and human rights issues etc.

It is believed that this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have an interest in using the included information for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. The information on this site does not constitute legal or technical advice.