Depending on your personal point of view, COP26 was either a spectacular firework that lit up the night sky in a blaze of colour or a damp squib that fizzled out before it ever got going. After all the assessment has been done, perhaps we can say now that it was somewhere in between the two. Sure, it led to a historic agreement between China and the US, it set ambitious targets in regard to deforestation and it helped to strengthen a more committed approach to climate justice. It even mentioned and enshrined the term fossil fuels for the first time. Heavens to Betsy, whatever next?
The pessimist in me, the little voice that keeps questioning whether snickers bars were better when they were marathons, however, has been wondering whether the whole thing was something of a missed opportunity. We were told before the conference began that we were already sipping a glass of sustainable Merlot in the last chance saloon, but I can’t help wondering if more could and should have been done. I half expected the delegates to come pouring out of the doors of Glasgow’s SECC like fifth-formers on the last day of term, whooping with excitement and chucking bags of recyclable confetti around in delight before heading home on their electric hover-boards to prepare their speeches for the Nobel Prize Committee.
Instead, we were treated to the sight of ever-more tired delegates struggling to reach significant agreements as the conference went into extra time. In the end, a consensus was thrashed out without the need for a penalty shoot-out, the powers that be breathed again and we all started to assess the overall achievements of an event that attracted representatives from almost 200 countries. On the plus side, the commitment to a 1.5 degree limit to global warming is still alive, but isn’t perhaps looking as healthy as it once did. Not quite on life support, it seems, but definitely needing help to get up and down a flight of stairs.
Definitely maybe, maybe definitely
Many of those with a background in the diplomatic sector will know how difficult it can be to find settlements that suit all parties, so they are often more optimistic about such outcomes than the rest of us. Delegates from COP26 made a number of commitments that, if seen through to the bitter end, will go a long way towards helping the planet to recover, but therein lies the potential problem. Those politicians who put their signature on various documents in Glasgow, could find their enthusiasm waning when faced with counter-arguments when they get back home. And even worse than that, they could end up being replaced by another leader who doesn’t share their opinions at all.
Therefore, it’s almost impossible to say that COP26 was a success or not at this stage. In ten years from now, we may look back and think it was the heralding of a new dawn, one in which electric cars, sustainable energy and extensive recycling programmes become the new norm. Alternatively, we may find ourselves a decade closer to the inevitable devastation that we all feared back in 2021. Maybe the one thing we can all agree on is that we as a society are standing at a crossroads and aren’t necessarily sure which turn we should be taking.
In other words, just as confused as we were before the conference even began.