COP26 falls short on ambition and fails to address climate justice

Published on 16 November 2021

Ian Scoones

Professorial Fellow

Shilpi Srivastava

Research Fellow

Lars Otto Naess

Resource Politics and Environmental Change Cluster Lead

The COP26 climate summit in Glasgow came to end late on Saturday 13 November with a final text published that includes a pledge on the climate crisis that keeps the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5C within reach. The ‘Glasgow climate pact’ was adopted despite last-minute interventions to water down language on a global commitment to phase out coal to instead merely ‘phase down’.

The intense two-week summit demonstrated the complexity of negotiations on climate change and of achieving consensus around contested concepts that in global policy making have historically been dominated by wealthier countries. To large extent, the debate on tackling change continued to focus on the technical and market responses rather than the issues of climate justice that are fundamental to achieving lasting, sustainable and equity solutions.

Commenting at the close of the summit, Shilpi Srivastava, IDS Fellow, said “COP26 felt like business as usual on climate change with the structural issues such as loss and damage and inclusive decision making that relate to climate justice either un- or under addressed. 2050 was touted as the magic number for us to hit net zero yet this plays into an intergenerational dynamic important only in the Global North. With loss and damage happening now, the Global North is abandoning a historic responsibility to act now and reach zero emissions much sooner.”

Shilpi continued “COP26 was dogged by the lack of progress on finance related to supporting developing and low-income countries in mitigating the effects of climate change. Instead, world leaders continued their support for technical and market-based solutions to climate change. The only real positives we should take from the two weeks of debate is that at last there was some visibility of ‘new’ ideas such as climate justice, loss and damage, and ending fossil fuel reliance. But these feel relatively minimal gains considering the scale and urgency of the problem we face.”

IDS Fellow Lars Otto Naess agreed that the COP26 did not go nearly far enough, particularly in recognising the importance of climate and environmental justice when considering the impacts of climate change. “At a macro level, the main positive was that the issue of climate change received the global attention it deserved. There was also some steps forward on adaptation finance pledges. Unfortunately, with so little discussion on climate justice, the failure to progress on loss and damage and so little commitment towards phasing out fossil fuels, overall COP26 can only be considered as another missed opportunity.”

This aligned with the reflections of Ian Scoones, IDS Fellow, who on seeing African delegations marginalised from the ‘negotiation action’ at COP26 said that ‘[at COP26] the fundamental challenge of addressing climate change – through the fundamental transformation of capitalist economies – remains untouched….Given that climate change is perhaps the biggest challenge humanity faces, Glasgow was disappointing.’

As we look beyond COP26 to future climate summits, the hope is world leaders have learnt how urgent it is for global collaboration on climate action policy that prioritises climate justice. This means applying an inclusive framing in local, regional, national and global decision making that rebalances power and incorporates the marginalised and most vulnerable who are on the frontline and facing the worst impacts of climate change in the here and now. Only in this way will climate action lead to sustainable, positive outcomes for all.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.


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