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Climate Change

Global leaders convene in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit

by Bibiana Campos-Seijo
November 7, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 41


When this editorial went to press, COP26 was in full swing: the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, until Nov. 12.

COP stands for Conference of the Parties; the parties are the countries that have signed up for membership in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. COP is the governing body of the international convention, and its role is to ensure the successful implementation of the convention’s goals.

The last event of this kind—COP25—took place in 2019. This edition, which had been postponed from November 2020, is expected to be a transformative summit for the planet.

What concrete actions will result is yet to be seen. But a few days in, a number of promises have already been made. Over 100 countries have signed the Global Methane Pledge, an initiative led by the US and European Union to reduce methane emissions 30% by 2030, and they have committed to seriously addressing deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

In addition to global leaders, the summit attracted more than 20,000 people to Glasgow. Many familiar faces and celebrities made an appearance, among them the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II. In a prerecorded video she urged leaders to rise above politics stating: “It has sometimes been observed that what leaders do for their people today is government and politics. But what they do for the people of tomorrow: that is statesmanship.”

British broadcaster David Attenborough addressed attendees in person, urging the world leaders “to turn tragedy into triumph.” He described humans as “failing to see the bigger picture in pursuit of short-term goals” and noted that those who would be most affected by the climate crisis were not some abstract future generation but young people already alive today.

Attenborough added that “we are the greatest problem solvers that have ever existed on Earth” and that we understand what we need to do. He described “a new industrial revolution powered by millions of sustainable inventions” as essential and stated that the revolution had begun. “We will all share in the benefits,” he said.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg did not speak at the conference but participated in protests outside the venue. In interviews before COP26, she warned that it is time for honesty and for all to recognize “the gap between what we are saying and what we are actually doing.” Thunberg confirmed that she expects countries to continue to make “concrete small solutions that are symbolic” and pledges that are “more or less meaningless.”

Philanthropist and entrepreneur Bill Gates also made an appearance at the conference to announce a $315 million fund“to help smallholder farmers in the developing world” adapt to climate change.

In an interview with Sky News, Gates agreed that global efforts toward tackling global warming are not on track but that he was encouraged by the transformation from “where we were 6 years ago, where the private sector was not being engaged, not providing its expertise and resources, and when we were not talking about innovation and how we were going to make green products.” He added that “humanity has never done anything this hard.” Gates hopes that the US Congress will pass legislation that includes $500 billion in climate-related funding. If it is not approved, he said, “we get back to ground zero, because we need those resources” to drive innovation. “It would be a huge disappointment,” he said.

Ground zero is not an option. When it comes to COP26, there’s no room for disappointment.

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.


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