COP26: The Catalyst We Desperately Need


By Rian Ignasiak / Contributor

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on

World leaders avoid discussing climate change, governments turn a blind eye to science, and politicians boldly spread misinformation that perpetuates harmful treatment of our earth — it’s a universal experience these days. But what if that doesn’t have to be the case anymore?

From Oct. 31, Glasgow is hosting the UN’s 2021 climate summit, COP26.  This conference is held in person to ensure that voices of all nations are heard and considered equitably.  For approximately two weeks, leaders of over 190 countries will be discussing how each nation can contribute to limiting the earth’s temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.  This will require intentional policy changes such as reducing deforestation and the use of coal power, phasing out diesel fueled automobiles, and transforming the agriculture industry into a sustainable sector of the economy.  The question worth asking now is whether or not COP26 will succeed in implementing these changes and pressuring attending nations to do better.

Historically, climate summits and global environmental agreements have not resulted in any significant action worldwide: most leaders are more eager to express their ambitions to enforce environmental policy than they are to actually enforce those policies.  The Paris Agreement of 2016 is an example of world leaders’ reluctance to follow through with their environmental promises.  While 197 countries signed the agreement and 190 ratified it, most made no concrete plans to meet the expectations of the agreement.  The key aim of the Paris Agreement was to limit the global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above the levels prior to the Industrial Revolution. 

This goal would require governments worldwide to reconstruct their energy, transportation, and agricultural systems entirely, none of which has been attempted.  So what makes the upcoming UN climate summit different from past attempts at change?

The past five years have shown the most awareness and protesting of environmental destruction around the world than ever before.  Climate discussions are happening more as each year passes and the signs of crisis show themselves in the form of wildfires, record-breaking heat, sudden changes in weather patterns, rising ocean levels, and extreme natural disasters.  People are pressuring their governments, and, according to COP president-designate Alok Sharma, COP26 is more serious than ever about creating real action.  The hosts of the conference acknowledge that the Paris Agreement isn’t being followed, and the targets outlined in this summit will be legally binding.  Additionally, the Paris Rulebook, which specifies the rules necessary for achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement, will be finalized at COP26. 

A few of the leaders’ statements regarding COP26 seem to prioritize the economy and be more concerned with maintaining current systems than reconstructing new systems that don’t put the very near future of humanity at risk.  With that being said, there is also an abundance of more hopeful and helpful discussions happening among the policymakers of COP26, creating a real opportunity to redirect climate change while we still can.  

The decisions made at COP26 will largely determine the future of our world and eventually affect every person across the globe in this very lifetime.  Considering all that is at stake, I would say it’s an event worth watching.