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Sam Merlos and Anahita Sen: COP26: Is it All Smoke and Mirrors?

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

This past weekend (13/11/2021) marked the end of two long weeks of intense negotiations at COP26 - the 26th annual United Nations climate change conference in Glasgow. With over 190 world leaders attending, along with thousands of other parties including government representatives, businesses and citizens, this annual climate summit provides a unique opportunity for the world to come together and tackle the climate crisis. This year’s conference carried particular urgency compared to previous years, as many experts claim that the window within which to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius (as laid down in the 2015 Paris Agreement) is closing - the decade leading up to 2030 is deemed crucial in determining the future of our planet (UN Climate Change Conference 2021).

In order to understand the goals behind COP26, it is important to have a look back at the 2015 Paris Agreement formed during COP21. This was the first legally binding international commitment which required countries to reduce carbon emissions as a means of reducing global warming to well below two degrees celsius. Preventing this rise in temperature is necessary to mitigate the possibility of extreme weather events that could heavily disrupt our daily lives. In doing so, countries were allowed to decide for themselves which measures they would take to meet this commitment (UN Climate Change Conference 2021). This has, however, led to varying degrees of follow-through with no legal consequences if a country has not fulfilled its goals (Colman, Mathiesen, & Weise 2021).

Therefore, the 26th annual summit consisted first and foremost of revisiting the plans with regards to cutting emissions, aiming to assess how more concrete commitments canmake1.5 degrees celsius an attainable goal in the upcoming years (Rincon 2021). Additionally, reaching a target of providing 100 billion dollars per annum worth of climate finance to vulnerable and developing countries was discussed (European Commission 2021). Finally, placing limitations on the use of coal was introduced as a commitment for the first time (Rincon 2021).

While these are all steps in the right direction, it is not enough to meet conditions for an increase of no more than1.5 degrees (Rincon 2021). As mentioned in Politico, the collective mobilization towards instigating action that tackles the climate crisis is definitely accelerating, but it is still falling short of what is needed to avoid extreme weather emergencies. The BBC brought up the point that there was only a commitment made to reducing coal use, but not oil or gas - why? Possibly because there is still a discrepancy in the power that richer countries have as opposed to more vulnerable or developing ones (Colman, Mathiesen, & Weise 2021). This discrepancy is emphasized in the extent to which countries are affected by climate disasters and how easy it is for them to adapt. As richer countries have the money to absorb shocks, they may not feel the direct impact of their actions, whereas countries who do not have that same capital or infrastructure will (Rincon 2021). It is therefore extremely important that nations with power take on more responsibility and hold each other accountable when tackling global crises like climate change.

Accessibility for the Disabled During COP26: Minister in Wheelchair not Able to Attend the First Days

During the first day of the COP26 held in Glasgow, UK, the Israeli minister of energy Karine Elharrar could not attend the events because the shuttle buses which were taking people to the venue were not suitable for wheelchairs (Radio France Internationale 2021). This thus led Elharrar to get to the venue by her own means, but unfortunately, the staff would not let her car go through. The Israeli delegation spent two hours trying to facilitate the minister’s entry to the venue, but the attempt was unsuccessful since the location was not completely accessible to people using a wheelchair (Gold & Foster 2021). Israel’s Foreign Affairs Minister tweeted that "it is impossible to safeguard our future and address the climate crisis, without first and foremost caring for people, including ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities" (Gold & Foster 2021). She was received the day after by the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a meeting during which he apologised to her (Gold & Foster 2021). The UN Climate Change secretariat mentioned that because of the safety measures and protocols taken against the spread of Covid-19, "COP26 is taking place under exceptional and unprecedented logistical circumstances" (Gold & Foster 2021), which also altered the settings of the meetings. Elharrar wrote on twitter that “(she hopes) the necessary lessons are learned so that tomorrow (she) will be able to address promoting green energy, removing obstacles and energy efficiency” (Radio France Internationale 2021). The issue was ultimately fixed and she was able to attend meetings in the following days of the conference (Gold & Foster 2021).

Strained EU-UK Relations: The Northern Ireland Protocol

It has been five years since the Brexit referendum indicated that the UK would be leaving the EU and still, to this day, concrete settlements have not been reached with regards to elements of their agreements. One such obstacle surrounds Northern Ireland, which is part of the EU-UK trade deal. The Northern Ireland Protocol was created to prevent customs checks along the border between Northern Ireland (which is in the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (in the EU) following Brexit, essentially exempting Northern Ireland from some EU rules by softening the border (Edgington & Morris 2021).

Since officially leaving the EU last year, the UK has refrained from introducing some harder border checks that were agreed upon during post-Brexit negotiations, claiming that they threaten the 1998 Northern Ireland peace deal (Schomberg & Holton 2021). The EU, however, argues that the UK should uphold its side of the mutually agreed upon and legally binding protocol, which was created while keeping the protection of the European Single Market in mind (Sandford 2021).

If this stalemate continues, the UK is in danger of triggering Article 16 of the trade deal, which allows for any part of the post-Brexit agreements causing “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” to be suspended - the implications of this could range from a strained relationship to a proper trade war (Edgington & Morris 2021).

Fishing Waters: The Increasing Tensions Between France and the UK

Heightened tensions between the UK and France have emerged in the past weeks. In fact, after the AUKUS crisis, London has not been willing to deliver a fishing license to French fishermen to fish in British waters (Ducourtieux 2021). This has been seen by Paris as a violation of the post-Brexit treaty signed by the EU and the UK (Malingre 2021). English Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds French President Emanuel Macron partly responsible for the divorce treaty between the UK and the EU as France was seen as the toughest country during the negotiations (Ducourtieux 2021). As a response to this provocation, Paris has announced that if the French fishermen did not get their licence by the beginning of November, British ships would not be allowed in French harbours, and control over English imports would become harsher (Malingre 2021). Although this seems like a bilateral incident, Macron has stressed the fact that it was rather a European one (BBC News 2021). French Prime Minister Jean Castex has indeed requested the European Commission to be harsher with the UK regarding the issue, and claimed that this dispute highlighted once more that the UK made more damage by leaving the EU than staying in it (BBC News 2021). Since then, tensions have not seemed to decrease, as both parties wait for the other to make a first move.

Written by Sam Merlos and Anahita Sen, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons


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Force" Avec Le Royaume-Uni.” Le Monde, October 28, 2021.

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