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Christian Aid Ireland with supporters attend climate crisis rally at COp26 in Glasgow

What happened at COP26?

And what's next?

Published on 16 November 2021

What happened at COP26? And what next?

As the COP26 summit closed on Saturday, developing nations and civil society were left with mixed feelings.

The Glasgow Climate Pact (the final deal agreed by delegates) came as a huge disappointment, leaving us with a lot to do to make climate justice a reality. But, amongst the disappointment, we did see some progress, and there is a glimmer of hope that whilst ‘keeping 1.5C alive’ (ie keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees) is on life support, it’s certainly not dead (yet!). 

The COP text also mentions fossil fuels for the first time, and most significantly for our partners in climate-vulnerable countries, the issue of compensating the hardest hit for losses and damages caused by the climate crisis has moved significantly up the agenda. 

Christian Aid Ireland supporters and staff attend COP26 climate crisis rally in Belfast

Christian Aid supporters joined the crowds at the Belfast COP26 climate crisis rally. - Christian Aid Ireland

What is Loss and Damage and Climate Finance?

‘Loss and damage’ describes the unavoidable loss of income, homes, territory and even lives from extreme weather such as cyclones and slow-onset emergencies such as rising sea levels, caused by rising global temperatures.

In some of the world’s poorest countries, which are least responsible for causing the climate crisis, people are already suffering the brunt of its worst effects, losing their homes, their livelihoods and even their lives. Some of these losses and damages are unavoidable and irreversible and we believe that wealthy, high emitting countries who are responsible for the climate crisis need to compensate developing countries for losses and damages felt now and in the future. 

Climate finance is the money that is needed to help developing countries pay for the costs of cutting their own emissions (mitigation) as well as to pay for the cost of protecting themselves from the worsening impacts of the climate emergency (adaptation). We went to COP to demand that wealthier countries pay their fair share and ensure that climate finance is provided in the form of grants rather than loans which only add to the debt burdens of poorer countries who are already saddled with high levels of debt.

Week one

Going into the summit, we had high hopes for the ‘most inclusive COP ever’. However, the summit started with disappointment as many civil society organisations were not able to gain access, and concerns grew for how voices from the Global South would be heard.

We were also disappointed with the UK Prime Minister’s paltry contribution of an extra £1bn to climate finance, which was just a drop in the ocean for what is needed. While Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s commitment to increase Ireland’s climate finance contributions was welcome, the pledged amount of at least €225 million by 2025 is not enough for the scale of the task at hand. When past emissions and wealth are taken into account, Ireland’s fair share of the global effort is closer to €500 million per year. It was also disappointing that there was nothing in the agreement to ensure that climate finance would be provided as grants rather than loans.

As negotiations continued, we saw some ups and downs. On the positive side, a new anti-methane deal was struck, which could reduce warming by 0.3C by the 2040s and world leaders pledged to end deforestation by 2030. More than 40 countries committed to move away from coal altogether and more than 20 countries committed to stop financing fossil fuel projects overseas. These pledges did not go far enough but will help to signal to investors that fossil fuels are on the way out. 

Week 2

The week began with Loss and Damage day and civil society demanded action to put loss and damage permanently on the UN climate agenda. The Scottish government became the first to commit to provide funds specifically for loss and damage. We hoped this would encourage commitments from other countries, but that was not to be.  

We were disappointed that the agreement did not commit to provide additional and separate funding and a mechanism to deliver it, to cover loss and damage, a key demand of developing countries at successive COPs.

To emphasize the economic impacts of loss and damage, we released new research that highlights how climate change could cause a 64% drop in the GDP (national wealth) of the world’s most vulnerable countries.  

As Christian Aid Ireland’s Advocacy and Policy Advisor Conor O’Neill who attended COP in Glasgow quite rightly pointed out at the time: “COP26 will be remembered for the refusal of rich countries to acknowledge their ecological debt and stump up the money needed for countries on the frontline of the climate crisis to help them pay for the losses and damages they are already and will continue to suffer from extreme weather and slow-onset disasters,” and that this wasn’t just a blow to developing countries but also “a reminder that the international order continues to prioritise the power and influence of wealthy countries.”

What remains of the house belonging to Jeksani Mapolisi in Kalima village, Chikwawa District Malawi

What remains of the house belonging to Jeksani Mapolisi in Kalima village, Chikwawa District Malawi - Christian Aid / Richard Nyoni

Campaigning and activism give hope

Throughout the two weeks, Christian Aid staff and partners from the global south who had managed to secure access to the official `blue zone’ of the negotiations pressed hard for action to limit temperature rises to 1.5C and to secure the money communities need to respond, adapt and be compensated for the impacts of the climate crisis.

Outside the blue zone, we joined faith movements from around the world to present their demands for climate justice to delegates and leaders. More than 150,000 actions, including petition signatures and your prayer boats, were gathered together alongside statements from religious leaders and young people. 

Then thousands of you joined the Global Day of Action. With an estimated 150,000 people marching through the streets of Glasgow, and just as many taking part in over 100 actions across the UK and Ireland including large marches in Belfast and Dublin. In so doing, you stood in solidarity with those on the frontlines of the climate crisis and demanded action for climate justice. 

And throughout, your prayers and hopes for climate justice captured and carried on prayer boats were displayed to decision-makers, ensuring that the breadth and depth of desire for climate justice from faith communities could not be ignored. 

What was the final deal?

Here’s a quick summary of what was agreed in the Glasgow Climate Pact 

  • Mitigation (cutting emissions): The agreement instructs countries to come back in 2022 with strengthened emissions reduction commitments. Collectively the current commitments of countries put us on track for 2.4C of warming. More ambitious commitments must be made next year. 
  • Finance: The pact requires rich countries to “at least double” funds for adaptation to the climate crisis. But there was no progress in getting developed countries to fulfil their promise to provide $100bn a year in climate finance overall or on agreeing how to make up the shortfall.
  • Loss and Damage: The issue of compensating the hardest hit for losses and damages caused by the climate crisis has risen up the agenda like never before. But despite that, developing countries’ demands for a new loss and damage financing facility were rejected, with the pact only providing for a ‘dialogue' to discuss 'arrangements'. 
  • Fossil fuels: The call to reduce the burning of coal is significant, even if the language was changed at the last minute from `phase out’ to ‘phase down’, but with no reference to when that might happen, it’s difficult to see when the phasing down might occur.

What next?

We must not lose hope. We must continue to hold governments to account for what wasn’t done at COP26.  

Looking to next year’s COP, Joab Okanda, Christian Aid’s Africa Senior Policy Advisor, from Kenya says: “All eyes now turn to COP27 in Africa, which needs to do much more to put the priorities of the global south above those of the rich world and corporate profits. Hopefully, a COP led by an African nation can better prioritise the needs of those who live and experience the devastating impacts of the climate crisis every day.” 

In both the UK and Ireland, there is much work to do to hold our governments to account on their pledges made during COP26.

Watch this space, and as we continue to act and pray for climate justice we can remember some powerful words from Great Thunberg, to “remember that there's not a point where everything is lost. It's never too late to do as much as we can.”