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Cop26 voices: The can is being kicked down the ever-lengthening road of climate crisis

© Jane Barlow/PA WireAlok Sharma, president of the Cop26 climate summit
Alok Sharma, president of the Cop26 climate summit

Jamie Livingstone is head of Oxfam Scotland

Cop26 was described as the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.

We needed the final deal to be a landmark moment in the world’s response to the climate crisis. Instead, it seems we’re settling for a moment of mediocrity.

There have undoubtedly been some glimmers of hope: news that the United States and China would work together to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C. Pledges to end the destruction of forests. And a coalition of countries agreeing that they would collectively kick their fossil fuel habit – though not the United Kingdom. But the devil is in the detail and most of the climate change conference’s eye-catching announcements were paper-thin and entirely non-binding.

What we really needed to see was the world’s richest, biggest polluters, agreeing specific and major new emission cuts.

Instead, they continue to kick the can down the ever-lengthening climate crisis road and global emissions are still set to go up, rather than down.

Jamie Livingstone

Meanwhile, world leaders acknowledged that they’ve been leaving the world’s poorest countries to foot the bill for a climate crisis they did least to cause, but they appear perfectly comfortable to continue to leave them to pick up the tab. That’s unconscionable.

While more money is promised to support people to adapt their lives, there has been little clarity about whether or not world leaders would actually plug the financial chasm between the money they’ve long promised developing countries and what they’ve actually delivered, nor if they’d give fairer finance instead of offering the poisoned chalice of loans to countries who can ill afford to take them.

More positively, Scotland made a pioneering move by becoming the first country in the world to allocate funds to help poor countries already dealing with the irreversible consequences of climate change.

Yet larger, rich nations continued to drag their feet by failing to pay up now for so-called “loss and damage” in recognition of the lives that have already been lost, homes that have become unhabitable and land that has become unfarmable due to climate change.

Cop26 was never going to be the end of the story on climate change but, as former US President Barack Obama said last week during a speech in Glasgow, it needed to “move the ball down the field”. Instead, the ball looks stuck in treacle.

Every fraction of a degree of warming and every delay, costs lives. Action simply can’t wait for Cop27.