The U.N. COP26 global climate conference at Glasgow has come and gone. The stakes were extremely high because, going in, the door to “Keeping 1.5 Alive” — meaning realistic hope of limiting global temperature increase versus pre-industrial levels to no more than 1.5° C — was only slightly ajar and is closing.
Depending on your perspective and/or what media you read/watch, you likely either think that major strides were made at COP26 or it was all talk and commitments made without any enforcement mechanisms. The reality is somewhere in between but that won’t cut it to Keep 1.5 Alive.
Meanwhile, the sports community — athletes, sports and climate leaders as well as teams, nonprofits and businesses — showed up like never before at a COP.
GreenSportsBlog offers a recap of an unsurprisingly muddled two weeks in Scotland.
What’s In The COP26 Accord?
Not nearly enough to ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’
To do so, the negotiators would have needed to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions by the 45 percent by 2030.
They didn’t get anywhere close. Instead, the 200 nations attending COP agreed to take the world to about 2.4°C of increase, a level most experts agree is unsustainable.
Targeting Fossil Fuels Directly for the First Time Ever at a COP…BUT Language is Dodgy
For the first time in a COP accord, the document includes language that asks countries directly to reduce their reliance on coal and to roll back fossil fuel subsidies. But, in last-minute negotiations, China and India watered down language in the final agreement regarding accelerating the transition away from coal, objecting to ‘phase out’, replacing it with ‘phase down’.
Talk of Climate Justice But No Real Action
A key developing country demand — for finance to address the “loss and damage” that poor countries have suffered from the impacts of the climate crisis had not been met. Milagros de Camps, the deputy environment minister of the Dominican Republic, told The Guardian that, “instead, what we got was a ‘dialogue’. How is this climate justice?”
Milagros de Camps (Photo credit: Yale Center for Business and the Environment)
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
That is certainly the case when deciding whether COP26 was successful or not.
For every German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze — who said “The fossil fuel era is coming to an end, the energy transition is becoming the model worldwide” — there was an environmental activist like Greta Thunberg, who opined that, “Now as COP26 is coming to an end, beware of a tsunami of greenwashing and media spin to somehow frame the outcome as ‘good’, ‘progress’, ‘hopeful’ or ‘a step in the right direction.'”
Svenja Schulze (Photo credit: BMU/init AG)
Weakening of Coal Language a Major Flashpoint
India’s environment minister Bhupender Yadav, referring to the mushier coal language, slammed the brakes on optimism that could’ve come from COP when he said, ““How can anyone expect that developing countries make promises about phasing out coal and fossil fuels subsidies … Developing countries still have to deal with their poverty reduction agenda.”
Some thought that the late-in-the-game weakening on coal language was not so serious. Climate economist Nicholas Stern said: “The last-minute watering down of this statement is unfortunate but is unlikely to slow down a strong momentum past coal, a dirty fuel of an earlier era.”
But COP26 President Alok Sharma reflected the will of the vast majority of the delegates when he bitterly disagreed, eschewing diplomatic niceties and double speak: “China and India will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did. Their actions leave me deeply frustrated.” According to The Guardian, Sharma was on the verge of tears after the late switch but ended up accepting the compromise language, because in his view, “otherwise we might end up with no deal at all. We would have lost two years of really hard work, and would have ended up with nothing to show for it for developing countries.”
Alok Sharma (Photo credit: UK House of Commons)
U.N. secretary-general António Guterres’ valedictory words had a whiff of Captain Obvious to them: “The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today.”
‘2.4 Is a Tragic Score’; See You In Sharm El-Sheikh Next November
An agreement that locks in 2.4°C global temperature increase locks in a dark future for most of humanity, so the plan is to return next November at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to to try revise national targets closer to 1.5°C. Typically, national emissions reduction targets are revised every five years, so committing to doing so next year is regarded by many observers as a good step.
More From COP26
These stories deal with issues and items that arose during COP beyond the purview the main accord:
- November 8 — Countries’ climate pledges built on flawed data, from The Washington Post
- November 9 — Fossil Fuel Lobbyists at Climate Talks: What Are They Trying to Achieve?, from the Yale Center on Climate Change Communications
- November 10 — China and U.S., At Odds on Many Issues, Agree on A Surprise Climate Deal, from The New York Times
- November 10 — More than 100 countries agree to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030 — from “PBS Newshour”
Sports Makes Its Presence Felt at COP26; Media Covers It
- November 4 — How Sport Can Kick Carbon, with Sky Sports — A panel in Glasgow moderated by Sky Sports News presenter Mike Wedderburn which included English cricketer/EcoAthletes Champion Joe Cooke
Mike Wedderburn (Photo credit: Sky Sports News)
- November 5 — The Greenest Man in Baseball — BBC World Service radio interview with Milwaukee Brewers pitcher/Players for the Planet Ambassador/EcoAthletes Champion and advisory board member Brent Suter
- November 8 — Brief review of Sport@COP Athletes ‘Day of Action’ — Article from Inside The Games about Sport@COP’s centerpiece event, led by Sport Ecology Group co-founder Dr. Maddy Orr and 5T Sports founder Aileen McManamon
- November 10 — Athletes Unite Against Global Warming In The Framework of COP 26: “Our Sports Are Already Under Threat” — The article, written in Spanish, from La Nación, Argentina’s leading newspaper, contains comments from yours truly and covered the COP26 Sports Community Manifesto, which garnered endorsements from over 300 athletes
- November 14 — Two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion/EcoAthletes Champion Gaby Dabrowski and Norwegian national team and Sampdoria star/We Play Green founder Morten Thorsby were two of the several athletes who appeared on BBC’s Sportshour hourlong ‘Sports and Climate’ special, co-hosted by Maddy Orr.
Gaby Dabrowski (l) with doubles partner Luisa Stefani after winning the WTA tournament in Montreal (Photo credit: The Globe and Mail)
Morten Thorsby celebrates with his Sampdoria teammates (Photo credit: UC Sampdoria)
GSB’s Take: On the business of COP, It says here that the tamping down of ambition on coal is problematic at best, pathetic at worst, and completely unsurprising.
Because of the COP’s structure. For an agreement to be struck, all participating nations — 200 at this year’s conference — have to vote yes. That pretty much guarantees ‘watered down’ will be an operative phrase at every COP.
GSB is glad the nations of the world agreed to adjust commitments at next year’s COP27 in Egypt rather than waiting the typical five years. But what will change between now and next November that will make India and China change their stripes on coal?
On Sports, I’m clearly biased because, as EcoAthletes’ founder, I played a significant role in spearheading the Sports Community Manifesto and in helping athletes have an impact on the ground in Glasgow. That said, I have three main takeaways from Sports@COP:
- Sports had its biggest presence by far at a COP.
- Media, sports and otherwise, took notice.
- Will media coverage of Green-Sports continue, or will only perk up during COPs?
The answer to #3 will go a long way to determining how much impact the sports world has on the climate fight.
Watch this space.