Recap of Week One, Look Ahead to the Final Week of the UN Climate Talks in Glasgow

Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Nov 5, 2021

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WASHINGTON—The first week of the annual U.N. climate talks taking place in Glasgow, Scotland are slated to conclude today. Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, policy director and lead economist in the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), offering an update on the progress made at COP26 so far and a look forward to the work that will need to take place next week to ensure the talks are a success. Dr. Cleetus has attended the U.N.’s international climate talks and partnered with the international community on climate and energy policies for more than 14 years.

“While the first week of the U.N. climate talks in Glasgow featured announcements of some important global climate initiatives, not nearly enough progress has been made on the core issues: enhancing ambition on emission reduction pledges, growing climate finance commitments, and addressing loss and damage in a meaningful way. Nations have significant work to do in the second week of COP26 to lay the groundwork for closing the ambition gap quickly so that global climate goals remain within reach in this consequential decade.

“The World Leaders Summit included fiery and sobering speeches, including a powerful plea from Kenyan youth activist Elizabeth Wathuti, who urged leaders to open their hearts and act. Leaders, including U.S. President Joe Biden, spoke clearly to the urgency of the science and the many benefits of embracing a clean energy future. Yet domestic political uncertainties and the sway of the fossil fuel industry loomed large in the background.

“During week one of the U.N. climate talks, a flurry of initiatives were announced, including an effort to curtail highly potent methane emissions, stop global deforestation by 2030, and a private sector initiative aiming to catalyze more than $100 trillion over the next three decades to reach net-zero carbon emissions. Dozens of countries, including the United States, also pledged to stop overseas public financing for unabated fossil fuel energy by the end of 2022 and shift funding to clean energy instead. And more than 40 nations committed to phasing out coal, though major emitters including the United States, China, India and Australia were conspicuously absent from this pledge.

“The bottom line remains that nations’ commitments to reduce heat-trapping emissions continue to fall short of what science shows is necessary, even as devastating climate impacts unfold around the world. Climate finance pledges to help developing countries also remain woefully insufficient. In the week ahead, negotiators must race to address these gaps, while also delivering a completed and robust rulebook to implement the Paris Agreement. Loss and damage, which refers to those climate impacts so extreme they cannot be addressed through adaptation measures, must be treated as an ongoing priority issue at the COP. The operational launch of the Santiago network for loss and damage, aimed at delivering much-needed technical assistance for climate vulnerable developing countries, is vital this year.

“As the U.N. climate talks continue, the ongoing climate-related drought and famine in Madagascar—with more than one million people including young children at risk of malnutrition and starvation—epitomizes the unjust and urgent nature of the climate crisis, which is manifesting globally. The scientific and moral imperative to act boldly could not be clearer. The time for incrementalism is over. Pushing past business-as-usual politics is the need of the hour, and that must be at the top of the agenda for policymakers in the final week of the Glasgow climate talks.”