"Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9)
The COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow has come to an end after two weeks of negotiations. At the outset we explained these talks were the most important climate summit since the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, with decisions charting or averting a course for catastrophic climate impacts.
The question being asked is ‘did COP26 fail?’
What is clear to Tearfund and our Renew Our World partners is that for the world's most vulnerable communities, climate justice remains a long way off. The injustice for vulnerable communities is that they are first and foremost to feel the impacts of a changing climate, despite having contributed least to the problem. In this summary we explore the key outcomes from this latest climate conference and outline what it means for ‘all of God’s creation’. While climate justice remains a long way off, we let’s not grow weary in our efforts of speaking up.
This emergency, and our response to it, is shaped by a multitude of decisions and actions - or lack of them. We came into COP26 on a trajectory towards a devastating 2.7°C of global heating, and calling for world leaders to get on track for the safer level and agreed target of 1.5°C. Official country climate plans have now shifted the dial slightly and put us on a trajectory for 2.4°C. Furthermore, if fully delivered, all the promises made during COP26 - including pledges to end and reverse deforestation and reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas - could take us to just below 2°C. This is some progress in the right direction.
But right now these are just words, they have a long way to go before becoming a reality. And while getting under 2°C would limit the worst effects of the climate crisis, we know that every fraction of a degree matters to the communities on the frontline, and for much of the rest of creation too. Significant work needs to be done to get the world on track for 1.5°C - which could be the difference between life and death for millions of the most vulnerable people around the world. This was part of the message that Tearfund and the Renew Our World campaign took to decision makers in Glasgow, representing more than 20 countries from across the global church.
The final COP26 negotiations requested nations to return next year with stronger climate plans, so we can keep on closing the gap to 1.5°C. This has opened the door to stronger action, but nations won’t necessarily do it without significant pressure. We need all the prayer, campaigning and action we can get from all around the world so that in 2022 world leaders - especially of high emitting nations - really do this, and deliver stronger plans and short-term targets for rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts in line with 1.5°C.
Global action towards zero emissions is central to the Paris Agreement, of which Australia is a signatory. Put simply, we cannot reach 1.5°C without phasing out coal, oil and gas.
Over the last fortnight we’ve seen some more nails in the coffin for polluting fossil fuels but we have not yet seen fossil fuels consigned to the history books. The final outcome of COP26 saw only relatively weak language on fossil fuels, calling for ‘efforts towards’ phase-down of unabated coal power, with no mention of oil or gas.
There was much coverage of announcements about coal during COP, but the commitments were vague and some countries back tracked on their pledge. Much more meaningful announcements were:
We urgently need to see more countries, especially high emitting ones, commit to end expansion of new coal, oil and gas and commit to a complete phase out. We must prevent a ’dash for gas’ and the promotion of unproven false solutions, when we need urgent emission reductions now. The science is clear: there is no room for new fossil fuels in a safer, fairer future.
The message from climate vulnerable countries has been consistent and clear in the run up to and throughout COP26: wealthy countries must step up to their responsibilities and deliver the support and finance that low-income countries need to meet their own climate targets, adjust to the impacts of climate change, as well as to pay for the suffering already being experienced (known as ‘loss and damage’).
And yet it is on this in particular that wealthy nations have fallen far short. To simply state ‘deep regret’ that the long overdue $100billion a year for climate-vulnerable countries - promised back in 2009 - has not yet been delivered is to turn their back on their responsibilities and on the women, men and children facing the worst of this crisis.
The leaders of wealthy nations have failed to put their money where their mouth is.
We needed concrete action to deliver the promised $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards, including any shortfalls, so the most vulnerable are not short-changed. And despite it being a key priority for vulnerable nations, Scotland remains the only country to make a financial pledge for countries suffering loss and damage due to the climate crisis. The leaders of wealthy nations have fallen short of their responsibilities to the communities already suffering from this crisis.
The world is standing up on climate action, while Australia walks backward. Australia is becoming globally isolated and is one of a handful of countries like Brazil, Russia and Saudi Arabia that are seen as part of the problem, not the solution. 140 countries including China and India lifted their ambition. Australia was among the only developed nations NOT to bring an increased 2030 target and has further entrenched fossil fuels. Pressure is on Australia to commit to an increased target before next year’s COP. Australia is being left behind, with dire consequences for our climate, economy and jobs. Local governments, States, businesses and households are making great inroads towards renewable energy and low carbon technologies. We need our Federal Government to go further and faster in national plans and coordination for transformation across Australia’s economy and society. There is no substitute for federal policies and action.
For Australia’s Indigenous Peoples, the Australian Government has totally shattered any hopes we had of repairing and healing the deep wounds and scars of our lands and people. We leave COP26 deeply ashamed and embarrassed by the Australian Government’s behaviour and attitudes to the deep concerns we have about the climate crisis. We are angry that their solutions are based on the premise of a ‘business as usual’ mentality which will continue to harm our peoples and all Australians on the lands and waters we all love. Shame! Shame Shame!
– Pastor Ray Minniecon.
Kuki Rokhum, Tearfund partner in India, summed up her reflections from her time lobbying: ‘The Glasgow talks have not secured a 1.5°C future but we march on because we need justice for the poorest communities and indigenous peoples around the world whose lives and homes are being destroyed by extreme weather, droughts and floods. And we walk in faith that things can change. Together we each carry with us a hope that we will see action, not just words, from this UN climate summit. The time to act was yesterday, but we still have today.’
We also came into COP26 knowing the work would not end in Glasgow. Climate justice won't be achieved by a single person, decision or conference – but millions of us will continue to play our part and demand that world leaders play theirs. We will continue to pray, to act, to hold leaders to account and to call for justice. And we will continue to walk by faith and keep our eyes fixed on God who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.
Please continue to pray for:
For my own part, my prayer is that we do not tire of doing good under the weight of the challenges ahead. I look to God, Lord of All Creation and acknowledge that he is good. And I pray, lifting up those who already experience climate impacts, and invite God’s goodness, justice and mercy to reign.