COP26: Keeping 1.5°C Goal Alive

By Paul Rahmat SVD

The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 – November 13, 2021. The UK government hosted the climate conference in partnership with Italy. The climate conference aims to secure global net-zero by mid-century, keep 1.5 degrees within reach, and adapt to protect communities and natural habitats affected by climate change. It also proposes to mobilize at least $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020  and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society.

World Leaders Summit

World leaders Summit on climate change was held on 1 – 2 November. President COP26 Alok Sharma said at the opening of the World Leaders Summit: “The science is clear that the window of time we have to keep the goal of 1.5℃ alive and avoid the worst effects of climate change is closing fast. But with political will and commitment, we can, and must, deliver an outcome in Glasgow the world can be proud of.”

UN General-Secretary Antonio Guterres sent a strong message to the international community to deliver an opening speech at the World Leaders Summit. “We are digging our own graves,” he said, referring to the addiction to fossil fuels that threaten to push humanity and the planet, to the brink, through the increase of global temperature. “It’s time say: enough,” he added. “Enough of brutalizing biodiversity. Enough of killing ourselves with carbon. Enough of treating nature like a toilet. Enough of burning and drilling and mining our way deeper.” The climate rapidly changes from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events such as floods, cyclones, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The IPCC scientists predict that global warming is entering a phase of “tipping points in earth’s climate system.”

Two young activists from Kenya and Amazon delivered an inspiring speech. They are calling on world leaders to take bold action. “You all have the power together to be better, to remember that in your words, you have the weapons that can save us or sell us out. You don’t need my pain or my tears to end the crisis. We are not just victims of this crisis; we are resilient agents of hope. We are not drowning, and we are fighting.”

Representing the Small Island States, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley held an emotional speech to take bold action on the people’s interest. “We must act in the interest of all our people,” she said. “If we don’t, we will allow the path of greed and selfishness to sow the seeds of our common destruction.” She implored global leaders to work hard to keep the global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius. “1.5 is what we need to survive,” she said. Two degrees would mean “a death sentence” for millions of people in vulnerable island countries, including the Dominican, Samoa, and Barbados.

Thematic issues

During the COP, parties and other stakeholders discussed various climate-related issues: from energy, finance, and nature to adaptation, loss, and damage. The participation of youth, indigenous people, and women are central to the COP26 agenda.

Since the beginning of COP26, people have cried out against fossil fuels as significant contributors to climate change. Coal, gas, and oil have contributed 65% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Hundreds of thousands of people worldwide marched for the climate, including civil societies, indigenous people, and youth. They repeated calls to curb dependence on fossil fuels and to move quickly towards ending the use of fossil fuels. People’s voices on the streets have resonated in the Blue Zone conference room. On energy day, President COP26 Alok Sharma made a big announcement on the new Global Clean Power Transition. It is a commitment to end coal investments, scale-up clean power, make a just transition, and phase out coal by 2030. About 20 countries, including the United States and Canada, signed up to stop spending tax dollars to support international fossil fuels projects and invest $18 billion a year in renewable energy.

Nature is one of the most effective ways of combating climate change. On the second day of the World Leaders Summit, the head of state and private sector actors committed to tackling climate change by restoring the planet’s forests.  At least 141 countries representing 85 percent planet’s forests had signed COP26 Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030.

Through the declaration, leaders promise to strengthen their shared efforts to conserve forest and other terrestrial ecosystems and accelerate their restoration and facilitate sustainable trade and development policies, both internationally and domestically. They are also committed to empowering local communities, including indigenous peoples, which are often negatively affected by the exploitation and degradation of forests.

Finance is a key to the pledge to save forests and lands.  In the last decade, roughly 40 times more finance flowed into destructive land-use practices rather than forest protection, conservation, and sustainable agriculture. In Glasgow, world leaders and private sectors take significant steps for restoring forest and land use. The major commitments include more than 30 financial institutions covering over $8.7 trillion of global assets signed pledges to move from an investment of a high deforestation-risk agricultural commodity supply chain towards sustainable production.  Some 28 countries, representing 75 percent of global trade in critical products that threaten forests such as palm oil and cocoa, have committed to a set of actions to deliver sustainable trade. Over ten countries promised to save forests in Congo Basin by providing over $12 billion through the Congo Basin Pledge initiative

COP26 has also succeeded in mobilizing public and private finance for climate action. In Glasgow, the parties and finance institutions are committed to aligning $130 trillion with the climate goal set out in Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees  Celsius.

Loss and Damage

Massive floods, devastating wildfires, and rising sea levels are realities many nations already face. Voices from the front lines of climate change and its impacts were at center stage in the second week of COP26 as the parties discussed adaptation, loss, and damage.

The term’ loss and damage’ are used within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process to refer to the harms caused by human-made climate change. In line with the Small Island States and the Least Developed Country Group, the vulnerable and developing countries have urged the developed countries to pay compensation caused by loss and damage due to climate change impacts.  However, developed countries have, for years since Paris Agreement, resisted discussing the issue properly.

In 2015, as member states signed the Paris Agreement, the developed countries promised to provide $ 100 billion per year for developing countries’ climate finance initiatives.  In Glasgow, the commitment was delayed and waited until 2023. For the Small Island States like Marshal Island, Fiji, and Tuvalu, whose some islands have already disappeared due to rising sea, loss and damage are a matter of life and death. They urgently asked the developed nations to keep their promise on climate finance.

Glasgow Climate Pact

The COP26 ended on November 13, 2021, after extending the climate negotiations an extra day. The questions are: what has COP26 accomplished after two-week-long complicated negotiations? What has COP26 done to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius alive? In Glasgow, the world came together to finalize the Paris Agreement for the planet and people. Countries at COP26 increased their ambition and took real climate action. COP26 came to conclude with nearly 200 countries adopting the outcome document, GLASGOW CLIMATE PACT (

The significant accomplishments of COP26, among others, are over 90% of global emissions are now covered by net-zero commitments. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) now cover 80% of global emissions. At COP26, countries agreed on the Glasgow Climate Pact. They commit to the real action by reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030, phasing out coal faster, speeding up the switch to electric vehicles, and ending deforestation. At COP26, countries accelerated progress towards closing the emissions gap and committed to coming back to do more for our planet.

“COP26 closes with a compromise deal on climate, but it’s not enough,” says Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. If all governments met their 2030 targets, we would have 2.4˚C of warming in 2100. There is still a gap between a target required by the Paris Agreement of 1.5 degrees Celcius and the target for 2030, which is 2.4 degrees Celcius. According to the IPCC report released in August 2021, the current stage of global temperature is 1.1 degrees Celcius. But right now, the current climate change policies put us at 2.7 degrees Celcius. COP26 came out with a target of 2.4 degrees Celcius by 2030 if all countries and governments meet their promises. A big question remains: are all world leaders committed to walking their talk in Glasgow?

VIVAT Participation at COP26

In Glasgow, VIVAT International participated in the UN Climate Conference of Parties (COP) for the first time as an observer organization. Thanks to Helen Sadhana and Robert Mirsel for their hard work in submitting an application to the UNFCCC secretariat for having an observer status.  Three VIVAT delegates were present in person in Glasgow during COP26. They are Alberto Parise MCCJ (Italy), Ida Haurand SSpS (Germany), and Liam Dunne SVD  (Ireland). They regularly sent a video message making a fresh-hand report of COP26 from Glasgow. Their information is uploaded in the VIVAT’s FB, and Twitter accounts as a part of the social media campaign for COP26, linked to the congregations’ accounts.

Besides social media involvement, VIVAT New York Office organized an online webinar on November 5, 2021, highlighting the theme: Listen to cry of the Earth, Local Initiatives to Address Climate Change. VIVAT members from the Philippines, Indonesia, Ghana, Brazil, and Germany were invited to be panelists. They shared stories and initiatives to respond to climate change concerning reforestation, organic farming, renewable energy, mining advocacy, plastic waste, and ethical investments.

Coping with climate change is a huge challenge and an imperative moral responsibility in our time. The Glasgow COP26 has endeavored to keep 1.5 degrees alive so humans and existing lives can survive in the following decades. Many ways can be done concretely: planting trees, using renewable energy, recycling plastic waste, consuming environmentally-friendly cooking oil and sustainable food, choosing smartly sustainable transports and traveling, etc.

Human activities-induced climate change is not only a political and financial issue but a lifestyle matter! THEREFORE, the IPCC scientists suggest that to keep the global temperature at 1.5 degrees, people also need to live a 1.5 degrees Celsius lifestyle.