COP26 got under way formally on 31 October. Opening speeches by conference host UK prime minister Boris Johnson and COP26 president Alok Sharma, previously UK business minister, emphasised the lateness of the hour, the extreme danger inherent in the rate of change in the world’s climate as it stands and urged the conference to agree on extreme measures to avoid global disaster.
Boris Johnson: “a red digital clock ticks down remorselessly to a detonation that will end human life as we know it. … we are pumping carbon into the air faster and faster – and raising the temperature of the planet with a speed and an abruptness that is entirely manmade … and we know what the scientists tell us and we have learned not to ignore them … 2 degrees more and we jeopardise the food supply for hundreds of millions of people. Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now. If we don’t get serious about climate change today, it will be too late for our children to do so tomorrow.“
Alok Sharma: “The IPCC report in August was a wake-up call for all of us. That report, agreed by 195 governments, makes clear that human activity is unequivocally the cause of global warming. And we know that the window to keep 1.5 degrees within reach is closing … in each of our countries we are seeing the devastating impact of a changing climate … floods, cyclones, wildfires, record temperatures. We know that our shared planet is changing for the worse. And we can only address that together.”
“Six years ago, in Paris we agreed our shared goals. We said we would protect people and nature from the effects of climate change. We said we would get finance flowing to climate action. And we said we would limit the rise in global temperature to well below two degrees, pursuing efforts towards 1.5. The rapidly changing climate is sounding an alarm to the world, to step up on adaptation, to address loss and damage, and to act now to keep [the aim of] 1.5 degC alive.”
At a high level summit for world leaders – heads of state and government representatives – on 1-2 November as part of the first part of the COP 26 High-level Segment, national leaders have agreed on two significant advances on climate change: promises to curb methane emissions and a deal to end deforestation by 2030.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, can warm the atmosphere 80 times as fast as carbon dioxide in the short term. More than 90 countries agreed to limit it. Russia and China, despite abstaining from the methane pact, joined Brazil and more than 100 countries in promising to end deforestation in the coming nine years. The pact encompasses about 85 % of the world’s forests.
But despite significant progress the high level summit did not achieve its main objective – securing aggressive commitments to reach net-zero carbon emissions globally, to slow the rising temperatures that have led to lethal fires, floods, droughts and heat waves around the world.