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Can You Solve Climate Change Better Than World Leaders?

From October 31 to November 12, all eyes were on Glasgow for the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26). Humanity waited with collective bated breath, hoping world governments would commit to sufficient emissions reduction targets to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius and imploring developed countries to make good on climate finance promises to help developing countries manage disproportional climate impacts. World leaders negotiated, peacocked, blamed, pleaded, and threatened in attempts to come together to avert catastrophic climate change.UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres opened COP26 with an urgent warning: “We are digging our own graves … recent climate action announcements might give the impression that we are on track to turn things around. This is an illusion. Even in the best-case scenario, temperatures will rise well above 2 degrees Celsius.” He added emphatically, “We are still heading for climate disaster … Failure is not an option. Failure is a death sentence.”

The cost of our inaction and procrastination has drastically upped the stakes in our fight against climate change: To keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world must reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent over the next eight years.

As the week wore on, I got the sinking feeling we’d seen this movie before, and we knew how it would end. Guterres confirmed these fears in his closing remarks: “The collective political will was not enough to overcome such deep contradictions … our fragile planet is hanging by a thread. We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe. It’s time to go into emergency mode or our chance of reaching net-zero will itself be zero.”

What Happened, Exactly?

There were some successful outcomes from COP26, both inside and outside of the formal negotiations: bold commitments to reduce methane emissions and halt/reverse deforestation, commitments to end support for international fossil fuel development, and an agreement to phase out domestic coal (the US was not a signatory on this agreement). For the first time, the conference addressed “loss and damage ,” the phrase used for impacts that climate-vulnerable nations have already experienced and can no longer adapt to (for example land lost to sea-level rise or forced climate migration due to drought).Still, the commitments are not even close to what is needed to stave off devastating impacts from climate change. According to the World Resources Institute, plans and commitments coming out of COP26 would limit warming to 2.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, a far cry from what scientists agree is a safe target. Many countries made net-zero pledges, but most don’t even have policies in place to achieve their updated 2030 pledges, much less net-zero commitments.In all, 197 nations signed on to the Glasgow Climate Pact, the final agreement of COP26. The pact “requests” that signatories reconvene in 2022 (breaking from the precedent of meeting every five years), with strengthened 2030 emissions reduction targets to align with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also requests that countries commit more resources to provide aid to vulnerable countries saddled with the most devastating impacts of climate change. Several countries (including high emitters like Australia) have already stated that their targets are fixed and that they have no intention of submitting strengthened targets in 2022.