Will promises from world leaders at COP26 actually happen?

Leaders from around the world are meeting in Glasgow this week for a major summit on climate change. The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26 for short, includes almost every country in the world. In addition to world leaders, tens of thousands of government representatives, negotiators, businesspeople and concerned citizens have descended upon Scotland for twelve days of intense discussion. Here’s a little of what’s happened since COP26 started on Halloween.

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First of all, some important folks are missing. Many leaders of Pacific Island nations — those more directly affected by climate change because they’re likeliest to disappear — couldn’t overcome the economic barriers and pandemic restrictions to attend. Only the leaders of Fiji, Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea and Palau managed to get to Glasgow.

Related: Officials worry COP26 climate conference is at “high risk of failure”

Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, spoke about overseeing an island threatened by rising seas. He also voiced frustrations that the most powerful countries weren’t doing enough to stem climate change.

“Those who need to make the decisions are kicking the can down the road, and they believe that they can, because they are not seeing us — they see themselves,” she said, as reported by CNN. “For them, they don’t reach that period of peril for another 15 to 20 years… there are a lot of us who are going to be affected before Shanghai and Miami.” 

Many countries are making promises, some more specific than others. The Brazilian delegation explained how they plan to end all illegal deforestation by 2028. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison talked about how Australia will lower its emissions 35% by 2030, which is actually one of the weaker pledges among developed nations.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged that India will hit net zero emissions by 2070. This is quite a while away, but as he pointed out, India is not chiefly responsible for the problem.

“I’m happy to report that a developing country like India, which is working to lift millions out of poverty and working on their ease of living, accounts for 17% of the world’s population but only 5% of the world’s carbon emissions,” Modi said Monday, as reported by CNN. “But it has not left any stone unturned in fulfilling its promise, and the whole world agrees that India is the only big economy that has delivered on the Paris Agreement in letter and spirit.”

China is currently the leading carbon emitter. President Xi Jinping is not attending COP26 in person. But he made vague promises in a written address about how China will “rein in the irrational development of energy-intensive and high-emission projects.”

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed his plan for Israel to be a “climate innovation nation” and to phase out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The small desert country has already proven itself innovative in water management. Bennett encouraged entrepreneurs around the world to launch startups that would address climate solutions.

 “We’re in this together,” Mottley of Barbados emphasized. “If you haven’t learned from the pandemic that all of us are suffering, then you will not learn from anything. We need to move together.”