Hopes and Doubts Abound at COP26

Jackie Thomas

Leaders and representatives from countries and groups around the world met starting Oct. 31 in Glasgow, Scotland for the two-week-long COP26 conference, a round of climate talks organized by the United Nations aimed toward finding substantial, international solutions to climate change.


Members of the Villanova community are among those in attendance, including faculty members from the Political Science department and M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing. Ruth McDermott-Levy, Ph.D., MPH, RN, FAAN is attending COP26 in conjunction with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and expressed her hope for change in public discourse and action surrounding the climate.


“We must have the courage to change the way we live, generate energy, address climate adaptation and interact with one another,” McDermott-Levy said, noting the importance of these steps both globally and at the University.


The conference, comprising more than 130 world leaders, thousands of diplomats and many scientific and economic experts, takes place as the world sees global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions and climate-related disasters at all-time highs. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed the necessity for action in his address to the international community on the summit’s second day.


“It’s time to say ‘enough,’” Guterres said. “Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper. We are digging our own graves.” 


Many global leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, acknowledged and echoed Guterres’s call to action for substantive agreements. However, many activists and members of the global community lacked confidence in the talks, recalling the shortcomings of agreements like the 2005 Kyoto Protocol or 2015 Paris Agreement coming out of similar conferences in the past.


Despite public doubts, delegates reached several key deals in the first week of meetings, including an agreement by more than 100 countries to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, a deal signed by 25 countries (as of Nov. 6) to stop financing fossil fuel projects abroad by 2022 and a plan to phase out the use of coal endorsed by 23 countries on Thursday.


Notably, about 100 nations and participating parties agreed to the Global Methane Pledge on Tuesday, an agreement to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, a move with the potential to slow the current trajectory of climate devastation worldwide and which has garnered global support.


“This is the first global commitment on reducing the potent greenhouse gas methane, and it’s an incredible step forward,” said Clean Air Task Force program director Sarah Smith. “Presidents and prime ministers standing up and recognizing that reducing methane is the strongest lever we can pull to rapidly and substantially reduce the rate of warming.”


While these and other moves so far in the conference amount to progress toward addressing the climate crisis, many argue that the agreements lack the necessary substance, urgency and legitimacy to serve as serious solutions. 


The Global Methane Pledge, for example, lacks the support of China, Russia and India, who together account for about a third of methane emissions globally, as well as Australia, which is also among the top 10 emitting countries. 


This lack of substantial universal consensus alongside overly-generous deadlines and the exclusion of activist voices at the summit led to massive protests in Glasgow and globally throughout the weekend. Tens of thousands marched in Glasgow, with notable climate activists like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate.


“Leaders rarely have the courage to lead,” Nakate told protesters, urging individual accountability and action for the cause. “It takes citizens, people like you and me, to rise up and demand action. And when we do that in great enough numbers, our leaders will move.”


As the conference continues and concludes, its success will be measured by the degree of enforcement of the major new pledges and agreements. The international community will either abide by new emissions and resource accords, significantly addressing climate change for the first time or, as activists fear, states will continue to lack the drive for legitimate, urgent action.