Between 31 October and 12 November, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland, under the presidency of Alok Sharma MP. Approximately 25,000 delegates from 197 states attended the conference, which was policed by 10,000 police officers.
To date, almost 200 countries have signed the Paris Agreement of 2015, a legally binding commitment to act against global warming by reducing the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gases. The main goal is to maintain a mean global temperature of no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. A longer-term goal is to achieve net zero – an equilibrium where anthropological emissions of greenhouse gases are negated by anthropological sequestering of greenhouse gases.
Six years on from the Paris Agreement, global efforts are gaining momentum, and leaders from all over the world are raising the stakes.
The first international step towards reversing anthropological damage to the environment was the United Nations’ 1972 Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden. The introduction to the report states, “To achieve this environmental goal will demand the acceptance of responsibility by citizens and communities and by enterprises and institutions at every level, all sharing equitably in common efforts.”
Held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, was the launchpad for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A few months later, 154 nations signed the UNFCCC treaty, committing to the goal of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system.”
The first UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP1) took place in Berlin, Germany, in 1995, and there’s been one every year since, excluding 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With 25,000 attendees to cater for, over a period of 13 days, hospitality was an important aspect of the planning schedule. About 95% of the food served at the conference was sourced from the UK, mostly from Scotland. The local sourcing of food was intended to promote environment-friendly food production and to put sustainability at the heart of catering for the summit. In fact, each dish was labelled with its carbon footprint score so that people could choose the most sustainable option.
However, environmental groups criticised the COP26 menu for its lack of sustainability, claiming that almost 60% of the menu comprised meat- and dairy-based food.
The conference covered a huge range of environmental issues, which were categorised into four key areas of action:
During the UNFCCC 26th Conference of Parties, some important decisions and commitments were made:
On 2 November, Boris Johnson laid out the Glasgow Breakthroughs. Modelled on the UK’s landmark Net Zero Strategy, the Glasgow Breakthroughs are the first set of global leader-led common targets under the Breakthrough Agenda.
The five goals, which collectively cover at least 50% of global emissions are:
A 190-strong coalition agreed to phase out coal power and end support for new coal-power plants. Five of the world’s top 20 coal-power-using countries were among 23 nations to make new commitments to phase out coal power.
The UK generates more electricity from offshore windfarms than any other country, and the UK government plans to increase offshore wind capacity four-fold by 2030.
Young climate leaders joined senior figures at the conference, and Alok Sharma urged ministers to consider youth priorities in COP negotiations and national climate action. The
views of more than 40,000 young environmental activists were presented to negotiators, and 23 countries made national climate-education pledges, which included putting climate at the heart of national curriculums and striving for net-zero schools.
A pledge to shift to more sustainable farming methods was made by 45 governments, and 26 countries set out new commitments to invest in the science needed for sustainable agriculture. Leaders of more than 100 countries, representing around 85% of the world’s forests, agreed to end deforestation by 2030. Germany plans to achieve a 25-million-tonne reduction in emissions from land use by 2030.
The UK’s aim is to engage 75% of farmers in low-carbon practices by 2030, and to be planting 30,000 hectares of trees, per year, by 2025.
As one of the Glasgow Breakthroughs, 30 countries have agreed to work together to make zero-emission vehicles the new normal by 2030. This will be achieved by making zero- emission vehicles accessible, affordable, and sustainable. The UK has pledged to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030 and to accelerate the transition to more active and sustainable public transport by investing in rail and bus services.
Several governments stated their intent to support the establishment of green shipping corridors (zero-emission shipping routes), which will involve deploying zero-emission vessel technologies and putting in place adequate charging infrastructure.
Important takeaways from COP26 include:
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