Was COP26 a success or a failure?

Published 2021-11-16 06:00

Young climate activists look back on progress made at COP26


The goal was 1.5 C.

The planet can’t get 1.5 C hotter by 2030, or else the consequences will be irreversible, according to scientists.

And countries were coming together in Glasgow, Scotland, at COP26 to find ways to achieve that goal.

But it didn’t happen.

After two weeks of negotiations, activists and experts say the agreement doesn’t go far enough.

“I was personally hoping for more. I think a lot of people are hoping for more.” - Océanne Kahanyshyn-Fontaine, 17

According to the agreement reached, global temperatures will likely rise by more than 1.5 C, possibly even as high as 2.4 C, said Kathryn Harrison, a professor at University of British Columbia, who was at the UN climate change conference.

Even though COP26 failed to reach its major goal, some say all hope isn’t lost.

There will be another COP conference in a year, and each year countries make more ambitious goals.

Activists dressed as world leaders protest against rising water levels during a demonstration at COP26 in Glasgow on Nov. 9. (Image credit: Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

Was COP26 a success or failure?

“We are nowhere near on track to limiting more warming to 1.5 C … on the path that we're currently on,” Harrison said.

And, she said emissions levels are only going to keep going up.

“We are running out of time.”

Still, she said the conference wasn’t a total failure.

“I would consider it a very qualified success,” Harrison said, meaning some things went well, others didn’t.

‘We did not achieve these goals at this conference, but we have some building blocks for progress,’ said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. (Image credit: Dylan Martinez/Reuters)

“There were lots of announcements at COP … on forestry, on methane, on public finance of fossil fuel projects abroad,” said Harrison.

That includes a plan to end deforestation by 2030.

But the big sticking point was coal.

Most countries agreed to “phase out” coal, which is a fossil fuel that is very harmful to the environment. It’s used to generate electricity in many parts of the world, including Canada.

But India insisted the language be changed to “phase down” its use, because they want wealthy countries to help them with the transition.

“India has abundant reserves of coal and an extremely poor population,” Harrison said.

“So, for them to commit to phase out coal without additional support from wealthy countries apparently was just too much.”

What youth activists are saying

“I was personally hoping for more. I think a lot of people were hoping for more,” said Océanne Kahanyshyn-Fontaine, 17, from Edmonton, Alberta, who attended the UN conference as an observer.

“‘Phase down’ could be phasing down by 0.1 per cent,” said Océanne. “So it really means nothing.”

She was part of a delegation of youth from around the world called #Decarbonize.

They presented a document to the prime minister of Scotland with demands from 35,000 youth under 18 years of age from 54 countries.

A teen stands overlooking a crowd and in front of a giant globe

Océanne Kahanyshyn-Fontaine, 17, attended COP26 in Glasgow.  (Image submitted by Denis Fontaine)

Jaeda Cardinal-Dauteuil, 18, also from Edmonton, was part of the same group.

“It felt like there was a lack of urgency,” said Jaeda about the feeling inside the conference, among negotiators.

Whereas outside, on the streets and among other observers, it was more intense.

“Outside of the venue during the march that I attended on Saturday, it felt like people out there understood the urgency,” Jaeda said.

A man and 3 youths stand at COP, holding a document called

Jaeda Cardinal-Dauteuil, right, with other members of the #Decarbonize group, holding their manifesto, which lists the demands they have to world leaders to help stop climate change. (Image submitted by Jaeda Cardinal-Dauteuil)

She said that, in some ways, the conference failed. And, in other ways, it succeeded.

“Some progress is better than none at all,” she said.

What’s next

In a year, there will be another COP conference in Egypt, and countries will have to show what they’ve accomplished and what more they plan to do to reduce emissions.

In the meantime, Harrison encouraged young people to keep voicing their concerns.

She said adults are listening.

“I think the voices of young people in the street demanding better … is the single most influential thing right now,” Harrison said.

Some young activists agreed.

A girl wearing a mask stands in a crowd at a climate rally

Sophia Mathur, 14, attended a Fridays For Future rally with thousands of people in Glasgow while at COP26. (Image submitted by Sanjiv Mathur)

“It's going to take a lot more pressure from the youth to continue to put pressure on politicians,” said Sophia Mathur, 14, from Sudbury, Ontario.

“We'll continue to do that as youth. We’ll continue to go out and protest.”

Jaeda said one of her biggest takeaways from the conference was that she can also make a difference as an individual.

“I need to come back to my community and to be my own example,” she said.

“My position as a Western consumer does affect the climate crisis.”

Jaeda said she plans to do her best to reduce her own carbon footprint.

Have more questions? We'll do our best to look into it for you. Ask for permission from your parent or guardian and email us at cbckidsnews@cbc.ca.

With files from The Associated Press

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