COP26 in Glasgow was a gathering of world leaders to promote the actions of improving climate change, from Nicola Sturgeon to Greta Thunberg, lots of plans were discussed. How well have these actions went in achieving their goal? This blog will highlight the good and the bad affects COP26 has had on climate change in conjunction with the active approaches law firms can take in contributing towards the COP26 objectives – as it is Pro Bono week and in the light of COP27 in Egypt this year. This will help people most affected by climate change stay informed to access justice.
Successes and Failures
The United Nations Convention on Climate Change gives COP26 as an annual conference a purpose. Mainly to adopt decisions which develop and implement the COP26 convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. However, there were aims which were set out for COP26 specifically. The four main aims set out in COP26 in Glasgow were to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, keeping 1.5C degrees within reach – aimed to be done by switching to electricity powered cars, preventing the prominence of deforestation, and promoting the use of renewable energy sources while minimising fossil fuels.
Further to this, it was proposed to protect communities and natural habitats which ties in with the deforestation objective as a whole. COP26 raised the issue of being able to manage and make available £100 billion in finance to work towards these goals. The fourth aim was for countries to work together and finalise the Paris Rulebook – which guides countries on reporting emissions, timeline for reducing emissions in total, and rules set out for carbon markets.
Before looking at the failures of COP26, we should acknowledge the successes. For one, the COP26 pact is now 190 nations strong, according to COP26 President Alok Sharma. This coalition has pledged to “phase out coal power and end support for new coal power plants”, showing that the international community is most united in their efforts to prevent global warming. However, certain key players in the international community, such as Russia and China, were notably absent from the conference. According to Paul G. Harris writing for PLOS Climate, the latter produce over a quarter of all global emissions and intend to increase this until 2030, while the rest of the world’s nations are actively looking to decrease such emissions. Therefore, the efforts of these nations may not be enough in achieving the target of 1.5 degrees higher than pre-industrial levels.
A further failure has been identified by ethicist Julian Sheather, who attributes “global ‘blinkmanship’” as another failure of COP26. Every country wants the changes to occur and is fully aware of the consequences that will follow if action is not taken. However, no nation wants to be the first to introduce such painful measures which will alter their citizens way of life, as not to be labelled as “draconian” or “authoritarian”. COP26 should provide the nations with a way of making these necessary steps together as a unified front, however Sheather’s proposes “weakness of global governance” leads to infighting between nations that detracts from the larger fight; the one against global warming.
The Legal Profession and COP26
Additionally, the legal profession has been urged to adapt its practices to meet the COP26 aims. Whilst changes to environmental law at a statutory level will work as an accountability tool, the most effective changes will operate at a firm level.
One of the most important starting points is the adaptation of firm targets. Firms must take a proactive approach to implement new science-based targets to limit carbon emissions associated with their practice. This will not only contribute to further achieving the 1.5°C target but also shows active engagement at a ground level which should be adopted by all employees. Alongside this also comes the publication of said targets, and how the firm has implemented practical measures to meet their aims and operate on a more environmentally friendly platform. This again will not only work as an accountability measure but also allows firms themselves to see if their measures are working and how they can be adapted for improvement or to ensure they remain affective.
Promotion of climate change within the legal profession is also vital to further achieving COP26 aims. In light of pro bono week, this is particularly relevant as pro bono activities is one of the most effective, proactive approaches firms can take towards achieving this. By carrying out pro bono work, firms can ensure access to justice for those who are negatively affected by climate change at an affordable level. Additionally, engaging with current and prospective policy making will also help contribute towards upholding the human rights of those majorly affected by the issue. Overall, it is important to recognise this is not an ‘over-night fix’, approach whilst it will be gradual must be consistent and continually adapting if further improvement is ever to be achieved.
Written by: Holly Stokes, Fraser Scott, Paul Jay Cassidy, Patrick Goodfellow, Louis Gibson and Scott Gemmell