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COP 26 Day 1: Success hangs in the balance

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By Helen Faulkner


Published 01 November 2021


COP26 finally opened in Glasgow yesterday after a year’s delay and months of intensive build-up. The next ten days will determine our future and the future of generations to come.


This is the most important Conference of Parties meeting since COP21 in Paris in 2015. That marked a step-change in the global response to the threats man-made climate change pose to the Earth.

It was the first time every country acknowledged the need to pull back from the disastrous course we have been on since the industrial revolution. It set targets to limit the global rise in average temperatures to 2°C and agreed the ideal aim should be to limit the rise to 1.5°C. It also set an objective to reach net zero emissions by the second half of this century. There have been four other COP meetings since then but the reason why COP26 is so important is that at Paris the world agreed to review – and if necessary, strengthen – those targets after five years.

The COVID-19 pandemic has already put that review back a year but now world leaders are gathering in Glasgow to ask themselves tough questions about how well they are doing in reaching those targets and what they need to do to accelerate the response to climate change.

One of the reasons why Paris was so successful was that the French government deployed vast diplomatic resources for two years in advance to ensure the consensus that underpins the COP process was in place before everyone arrived. Achieving consensus among 196 countries is a daunting prospect. COVID and the distractions of Brexit have meant the British effort in the run-up to COP26 has been fragmented and, many critics say, poorly focussed. It means expectations are low as the curtain lifts on proceedings today.

In a pre-COP briefing on Friday, one expert adviser to COP26, Bob Ward from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was frank when he said: “Success hangs in the balance. Glasgow has set the objective of keeping the 1.5°C within reach but that needs net zero by 2050. We are perilously close to the window being shut on the 1.5°C”.

That warning was echoed by Alok Sharma, the UK President of COP26 in his opening speech.

The communiqué issued at the end of this weekend’s G20 summit in Rome was not encouraging, as the world’s most powerful economies failed to commit to the firm actions most experts believe are required to reach net zero by 2050, making only a vague commitment to aim for that target “by or around mid-century”.

It has now fallen to the UK to ensure the window of opportunity remains open and to Glasgow to roll out the green carpet to welcome an anticipated 25,000 visitors.

“Glasgow is ready”, says John Maillie, Partner and Location Head, based in our Glasgow office. “We hope the name of our great city will be forever associated with an event that gives the world renewed hope of meeting the huge challenges posed by climate change”.

Our climate change and ESG experts will weigh each day’s proceedings in the balance, diving deep beneath the headlines to highlight and share with you the key outcomes for the insurance industry.

It might be dramatic to say we have ten days to save the world but, as Prince Charles said on Sunday, we all must fervently hope expectations are exceeded so we can save our planet from irreparable damage.