After UN climate conference failure, humanity is still on the road to hell

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, leading a 100,000-strong march through the streets of Glasgow, dismissed the two-week UN climate conference as a “greenwashing festival.”

This year’s COP26 seemed like a chaotic failure as world leaders made few advances in beating back the existential threat of global warming.

Reflecting on the two weeks of intense climate negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow it’s clear that, while real progress was made, it was nowhere near enough.

“The Glasgow Climate Pact is more than we expected, but less than we hoped for,” said Dann Mitchell, head of climate hazards at Britain’s Met Office.

Compared to what came before, the first-ever call by 196 countries to draw down coal-fired power, or a promise to double financial aid each year—to roughly $40 billion—so poor nations can brace for climate impacts, are giant steps forward.

Likewise, a provision obliging countries to consider setting more ambitious targets for reducing carbon pollution every year rather than once every five years.

But all these hard-won gain shrivel in significance when stacked up against hard science.

A cascade of deadly floods, heat waves and wildfires across four continents in 2021, combined with ever more detailed projections, left no doubt that rising above the 1.5 degrees Celsius heating limit envisioned in the Paris Agreement would push Earth into the danger zone.

COP26 fell well short of delivering the national commitments that would together limit warming globally to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Global heating is certain to pass 1.5C within the decade, raising the threat of passing those “tipping points” that could release massive amounts of CO2 and methane from the permafrost, transform the Amazon basin into a savannah, and ice sheets shedding enough mass to submerge cities and deltas that are now home to hundreds of millions of people.

“Make no mistake, we are still on the road to hell,” said Dave Reay, executive director of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute and policy director of ClimateXChang. “But Glasgow has at least created an exit lane.”

“So, was COP26 in Glasgow a success? Yes, if you regard major steps forward on a basket of key climate issues as success,” said Dave Reay. “However, if you were looking for the giant leap forward required to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C, then it has to be a resounding no.”

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