United Nations Climate Change Conference


Credit: Li-An Lim on Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/photos/ycW4YxhrWHM)

Paul Siebert


From 31 October until 12 November 2021, representatives of some 200 countries have discussed future measures in the fight against climate change. The Glasgow climate change conference was most likely one of the most important climate summits of all time and it possibly determined the future of our planet as we know it.

The Happenings

The conference had been postponed for the past 12 months until it could finally take place. The UK held the presidency to the conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The president of the conference was Alok Sharma, who was appointed on 8 January 2021 after three other persons had declined or given up on the job. 

So, who attended the conference? Leaders from all over the world. But, Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not attend the conference in person. So two of the biggest emitters in history did not send their leaders. That doesn’t mean that nobody represented these countries at all though. Xi Jinping sent the veteran Xie Zhenhua as his replacement and Vladimir Putin took part via video conference. Putin’s spokesperson named Covid-19 as the reason for his absence. 

Now, to the countries whose leaders did attend the conference. Joe Biden attended the conference for the US and he had even started working on a draft before the conference so the negotiations would go a bit smoother in Glasgow. Some of the other big countries whose leaders attended the conference are: the United Kingdom, France, India, Germany, Australia (Australia’s prime minister only decided to go after he received negative reactions to him planning not to attend), Turkey, Canada, Italy, South Korea, and Argentina. Italy also partnered with the UK to organize the event. 

Of course, the biggest question is: What were they able to achieve? But before we discuss that, we first need to talk about which countries led the way, which countries blocked decisions, and what needed to be done in order to at least slow down climate change? As the host nation, the UK wanted all countries to back a strong statement that recommits to net zero emissions by 2050 – as well as big reductions by 2030. It also wanted specific pledges on ending coal and petrol car usage. These measures and requests are all closely in line with the EU’s (European Union’s) commitments under the Green Deal and Fit for 55 packages. On the other hand, developing countries wanted a significant financial package over the next five years, to help them adapt to rising temperatures. Since developing countries tend to pollute less per head of population and are not responsible for most emissions in the past but experience some of the worst effects of climate change, wealthy countries had previously pledged $100bn a year to help poorer nations by 2020. A UN (United Nations) assessment last year said this target was likely to be missed, so wealthier countries were asked to commit more money. That, and the measures mentioned above were the bare minimum the participants needed to agree to if they really want to save our planet. And the goal of keeping the rise of global temperature below 1.5°C (compared to pre-industrial levels), which was set at the climate conference in Paris in 2015, should have still been the goal but several scientists have stated that we are already too late for this. They said that, no matter what leaders decide at the conference, the 1.5°C goal is unachievable. 

Some climate activists have expressed their concerns about the inefficiency of world leaders. Greta Thunberg has stated: “Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say ‘we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this’, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.” Even Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom, has expressed her concerns (overheard via microphone):  “It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do.” 

Now, to the most important question: What have the countries agreed on? Big countries, such as Russia, India, and China still haven’t agreed to the 2050 net zero goal. Russia hasn’t even set a formal goal, China set 2060 net zero as their goal and India is planning on achieving net zero by 2070. (Net zero is the target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity.) And even though that doesn’t sound great, these are the first steps by countries which have completely ignored climate change before and other countries have also agreed on solutions to important topics.

The Glasgow climate pact was signed by all 197 nations when the conference ended on the 12th November. It acknowledged that previously set targets have been too weak to be able to stop the climate from rising more than 1.5°C (2.7°F) compared to pre-industrial levels. To attempt to still achieve the 1.5°C goal, the pact obliges governments to strengthen their goals by the end of next year and not every five years, as it was previously required. Specific targets set at the summit include agreements on reducing everybody’s reliance on coal and rolling back fossil fuel subsidies. Originally, the pact spoke of phasing out coal but India voiced their concerns in the last second and, to keep the deal alive, other countries agreed to word it differently and speak of phasing down the usage of coal. By the way, this was the first time ever fossil fuels were mentioned in a UN climate declaration. A bit further up in the article, the payments of developed countries to poorer countries were mentioned. The developed countries couldn’t come to an agreement concerning this topic. The US and EU vetoed the creation of a new “Glasgow loss and damage facility.” They agreed to continue discussions on the topic though so we will have to see where that leads. By the end of the first day, about 100 countries had signed up to a deforestation pledge which speaks of ending and reversing deforestation by 2030. And these 100 countries inhabit 90% of all forests. Another important agreement made is the methane agreement. More than 100 countries have committed to cutting back the greenhouse gas. To be exact, they agreed to reduce emissions by 30% by 2030. The United States and China have also announced a joint declaration which reveals Beijing’s intention concerning the fight of climate change. After a long quiet period, this is another sign of China joining in the fight against climate change. Other than that, the various pledges of companies and investors to phase out gasoline powered cars, decarbonize air travel, protect forests, and ensure more sustainable investing are important steps in the right direction as well. 


With all of the declarations mentioned in the article, it may look like COP26 was a complete success and that isn’t quite the truth. Yes, some important decisions have been made. The countries of the world took steps in the right direction. But… It just isn’t enough. To put it in numbers: Before COP 26, the climate was expected to rise to 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels. With the measures now agreed on, this has been reduced to 2.4°C. Of course, that is a reduction but it is not even close to good enough. The nations continue to emphasize that they want to keep the 1.5°C target alive but right now, it is on life support if even still alive at all – as Alok Sharma put it: “We’ve kept 1.5°C within reach [today]. But its pulse is weak, and we will only survive if we keep our promises.” Our planet is at risk and politicians are neither taking enough responsibility nor are they acting accordingly. And yes, it is difficult to cut down on all these things that make our life so much easier and cheaper but this is not about being comfortable but about our planet and our lives – in particular the lives of future generations. As already said, COP26 was a step in the right direction and it offered us some solutions but there is still a lot to do. For now, we can only hope that all countries will stick to the deal and further their goals by the end of next year, as well as that the countries will continue efforts and discussions to agree on more ambitious targets in the future. In particular an agreement on carbon pricing would be would mean a huge step forward. The public has clearly shown how important this topic is to them. We have seen millions of people all around the world protesting to get their leaders to act. Over 100.00 people showed up to protest in Glasgow alone. These peaceful protests are the best option for people to voice their concerns and do something right now even if they may sometimes feel as if their voices do not matter and they will not be able to change anything anyways. Especially young people sometimes seem to think like that, but ever since they have started taking their concerns to the streets, politicians seem to have started listening. There is definitely still a lot to do and politicians need to be shown even more how important this topic is to especially the young generation, but there is hope!