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COP26’s Big Problem was a Lack of Collective Commitment

Labour MP Alex Sobel, co-rapporteur of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, reflects on the recent COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow

A participant in a campaign of the climate movement ‘Fridays For Future’. Photo: Christian Charisius/DPA/PA Images

COP26’s Big Problem was a Lack of Collective Commitment

Labour MP Alex Sobel, co-rapporteur of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, reflects on the recent COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow

If we were to distil all that is right and wrong with our collective, international fight for humanity into a two-week conference, then COP26 would be it.

The will of activists, campaigners, parliamentarians and local governments who have all realised and reconciled with the seriousness that is the existential threat of climate change came up against an almost impenetrable fortress of certain state governments, financial institutions and big business interests determined to protect fossil fuelled business as usual at all costs.

We have been left with an agreement that still offers room for those millions of people who are fighting climate change with optimism to fight another day knowing that the window of time to act is narrowing rapidly.

But the door for success is narrowing, and we will need the biggest shift in approach yet when COP returns next year.

I was honoured to attend COP26 as the co-rapporteur for the Inter-Parliamentary Union – the world’s oldest multilateral political organisation. Over the past year, I have been working with my counterparts across the world to find a global approach to fighting climate change. The joint UK presidency of COP26 with Italy resulted in an extra responsibility to bring together the will and the voice of the world’s parliaments ahead of the conference.

This work, spearheaded by Italian co-rapporteur Alessia Rotta and myself, culminated in a meeting in Rome and an outcome document – an ambitious roadmap that sought both to underline the importance of parliamentary engagement in fighting climate change, as well as acting as a guide and setting expectations for governments negotiating the final agreement. 

The document laid out a 20-point plan covering a wide range of considerations – from sustainable financing for small island developing states particularly vulnerable to current and future climate change; to improving the wellbeing of women and girls, who are 14 times more likely to be victims of a natural disaster.

It outlined what a proper transnational mechanism to monitor the implementation of the Paris agreement could look like and implored governments to take the steps necessary to ensure greater biodiversity and reduce carbon emissions to ensure that the global temperature does not exceed 1.5°C.

Early Optimism Lost

COP26 started with what seemed like serious announcements that could deliver the gamechanger that is needed. However, by the second week, it became apparent that whilst the emperor was not quite naked, he was standing in his underwear.

The major deforestation agreement suffered backsliding by the Indonesians. The 450 banks promising to use a combined £130 trillion to invest in net zero was in fact a continued commitment to fund fossil fuels while only a tiny fraction will be invested in net zero measures in this next decade.

The 40 countries who were ready to phase-out coal did not include, it seems, China, India or the US. We will be phasing-out ‘inefficient’ fossil fuel subsidies while allowing the ‘efficient’ ones and our slightly higher integrity rules still only close some of the loopholes that have allowed so much carbon horse-trading.

The biggest problem, however, was the collective commitment of all nations – leading us on a path to around 2.4°C of global warming.

Our only hope now is that the commitment to come back next year will be coupled with overwhelming pressure on all states – particularly the most rich and powerful – to seriously up their game.

Alex Sobel is the Labour MP for Leeds North West and the Shadow Minister for Tourism and Heritage

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