alok sharma cop26 closing speech

COP26: A Disappointing Success or Successful Disappointment?

Boris calls the summit a success. But admits he wanted a stronger deal.

Speaking at a post-COP26 press conference, the UK Prime Minister admitted he felt “tinged with disappointment” that the climate meeting didn’t achieve a definitive end to coal consumption, among other aims. However, he did counter this with COP26 “delivered as much as we could hope”. Plus, the deal signifies the “death knell for coal power.”

Pact Facts

The conference officially ended yesterday evening with a “Glasgow Climate Pact” endorsed by nearly 200 countries. This has received a mixed reaction. The key goal was to establish a plan to limit global warming to 1.5C. Throughout the 2 weeks, concern had already been expressed about the lack of concrete action plans towards this, climate finance and adaption, loss, and damage. Pledges concerning deforestation and methane emissions were hailed as considerable successes. However, coal proved a sticking point at the last moment. Whilst the Pact is the first to explicitly reference fossil fuels, India requested a word change from “phase out” to “phase down” coal production and consumption. 

Johnson argued that there was not a great deal of difference between the phrases. As he said, “The direction of travel is pretty much the same”. However, in spite of the “historic firsts”, COP26 President Alok Sharma said he felt the Pact’s phrasing would result in a less impactful outcome. As the Pact was passed, he was observed to cry.

Another key development was the Pact asking nations to update their 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. The new target date is COP27.  Several nations, including China and South Africa, have declared this deadline was too early. But 28 nations also joined the Powering Past Coal Alliance at COP26. This takes the total membership to 165 cities, regions, states, and businesses.

Coal Cajole

Johnson acknowledged the piecemeal nature of progress in the face of some nations’ lack of concession. Speaking for those “whom climate change is already a matter of life and death”, he said, “While many of us were willing to go there, that wasn’t true for everybody. Sadly, that’s the nature of diplomacy.” He continued, “We can lobby, we can cajole, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign nations to do what they do not wish to do. It is ultimately their decision and they must stand by it. But, for all that, we can be immensely proud of what has been achieved by Alok Sharma and his team.” UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa also reiterated that the Glasgow Climate Pact is a huge step forward.

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