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Zoe Kelly

Zoe Kelly '25 tells about COP26, the United Nation's annual conference to assess climate change and action. 

From October 31 to November 12, 2021, the United Nations held the 26th annual climate change conference, better known as COP26. For nearly three decades, the United Nations has gathered almost every country worldwide for a conference to discuss the issues and impacts of climate change on our planet. This summit was originally formed to address the minor issues that climate change was causing, but now, it has developed into a major international priority.

The summit was held in Glasgow, Scotland this year, with the United Kingdom serving as its president. The main goal of this year’s conference was simple yet complex. The United Kingdom aimed to reach an agreement with every country in attendance on how to combat global climate change. Tens of thousands of negotiators, businesses, citizens, and government representatives attended the summit, and many had contrasting opinions on how the UN should respond to pertinent issues.

To understand why the conference of this year was so important, we need to take a look back six years prior, to the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015. This summit was originally believed to be a momentous event on the issue of climate change. For the first time in the history of the conference, every country in attendance agreed on a plan to help reduce global warming. The goal was to limit global warming to below 1.5 degrees, and each country would put forth plans to limit their own emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. The time frame in which countries planned to consistently reduce their emissions to an acceptable level to combat climate chance only extends to 2030. Nations planned to meet for updates and improvements to their plans three times throughout the fifteen years from 2015.

In the six years since this agreement was made, these commitments did little to effectively impact climate change, and did not come close to the original goals. COP26 (delayed one year due to COVID-19) was the first chance for attending countries to update their plans to reduce emissions, while also discussing the new developments in global warming.

Several agreements were made in this year’s conference, all hoping to limit the continuous progression of atmospheric temperatures since the Paris Agreement. Each country pledged to revisit the limitation of their NDCs through 2030, while also agreeing to multiple smaller targets. The conference explicitly called for a phase out of all coal and inefficient fossil fuels in use, and commitments were made to limit deforestation, methane emissions, and overseas funding of oil and gas projects.

While COP26 showed hope for limiting the progression of climate change, it has been widely criticized by many who do not believe the agreements were progressive enough. The conference serves as a reminder to all that these commitments are not guarantees and are not enough to solely limit climate change, and without sufficient action, critics say the conference may have been in vain.