COP26 - Still searching for Climate Justice

Written by Paul Cook, Chair of Renew Our World, and Julia Kendal, Senior Policy Associate at Tearfund.

'Jocabed Solano from Renovemos Nuestro Mundo (Renew Our World) who presented the Reset 21 petition to world leaders at COP26'


The world’s eyes have been on Glasgow over the last fortnight as the much-anticipated climate talks have unfolded. As they draw to a close this weekend, we reflect on a fortnight that has seen some progress - but fallen far short of justice - for the most climate-vulnerable nations.

Global Warming - 1.5C

This emergency, and our response to it, is shaped by a multitude of decisions and actions - or lack of them. We came into COP26 on a trajectory towards a devastating 2.7C of warming, and calling for world leaders to get on track for the safer level and agreed target of 1.5C. Official country climate plans have now shifted the dial slightly and put us on a trajectory for 2.4C. Furthermore, if fully delivered, all the promises made during COP26 - including pledges to end and reverse deforestation and reduce emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas - could take us to just below 2C.

But right now these are just words, they have a long way to go before becoming a reality. And while getting under 2C would limit the worst effects of the climate crisis, we know that every fraction of a degree matters to the communities on the frontline, and for much of the rest of creation too. Significant work needs to be done to get the world on track for 1.5C - which could be the difference between life and death for millions of the most vulnerable people around the world. The final COP26 negotiations requested nations to return next year with stronger climate plans, so we can keep on closing the gap to 1.5. This has opened the door to stronger action, but nations won’t necessarily do it without significant pressure. We need all the prayer, campaigning and action we can get from all around the world so that in 2022 world leaders - especially of high emitting nations - really do this, and deliver stronger plans and short-term targets for rapid, deep and sustained emissions cuts in line with 1.5C.

'Renew Our World campaigners at the global day of action'


Fossil fuels

We cannot reach 1.5C without phasing out coal, oil and gas. Over the last fortnight we’ve seen some more nails in the coffin for polluting fossil fuels but we have not yet seen fossil fuels consigned to the history books. The final outcome of COP26 saw only relatively weak language on fossil fuels, calling for ‘efforts towards’ phase-down of unabated coal power, with no mention of oil or gas.

There was much coverage of announcements about coal during COP, but the commitments were vague and some countries back tracked on their pledge. Much more meaningful announcements were: 

  • Nearly 40 nations and institutions committing to end overseas public finance for coal, oil and gas by the end of 2022. If fully implemented, this could shift up to $24.1 billion a year out of fossil fuels and into clean energy - and play a significant role in limiting global temperature rise. This is something we have been campaigning for. 
  • 12 nations signing up to an alliance to turn off the taps to new oil and gas.

We urgently need to see more countries, especially high emitting ones, commit to end expansion of new coal, oil and gas and commit to a complete phase out. We must prevent a ’dash for gas’ and the promotion of unproven false solutions, when we need urgent emission reductions now. The science is clear: there is no room for new fossil fuels in a safer, fairer future.

Climate finance

The message from climate vulnerable countries has been consistent and clear in the run up to and throughout COP26: wealthy countries must step up to their responsibilities and deliver the support and finance that low-income countries need to meet their own climate targets, adjust to the impacts of climate change, as well as to pay for the suffering already being experienced (known as ‘loss and damage’)

And yet it is on this in particular that wealthy nations have fallen far short. To simply state ‘deep regret’ that the long overdue $100billion a year for climate-vulnerable countries - promised back in 2009 - has not yet been delivered is to turn their back on their responsibilities and on the women, men and children facing the worst of this crisis. 

The leaders of wealthy nations have failed to put their money where their mouth is. We needed concrete action to deliver the promised $100 billion a year from 2020 onwards, including any shortfalls, so the most vulnerable are not short-changed. And despite it being a key priority for vulnerable nations, Scotland remains the only country to make a financial pledge for countries suffering loss and damage due to the climate crisis. The leaders of wealthy nations have fallen short of their responsibilities to the communities already suffering from this crisis. 

'Renew Our World representatives presenting the richest nations with an overdue bill of $100billion a year'


Beyond the negotiations 

We draw hope from the fact that COP26 has been about far more than just the negotiations: it’s been about movements of people coming together to create change. We have seen more people speaking up for climate justice than ever before, within and beyond the churches.

We also handed in the global Renew Our World petition to 14 member countries and to the COP secretariat who run the talks, and built relationships with some senior negotiators from several countries. 

'Handing in the Reset 21 Petition to Hon. Nancy Tembo MP - Malawi Minister of Forestry and Natural Resources'



We came into COP26 calling for world leaders to get on track for 1.5C and deliver climate justice for the most vulnerable. As the talks draw to a close we give thanks for the progress we have seen. But we also lament that the talks have fallen short of delivering justice and a safer future for millions of people who are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis - those who live lightly and yet are paying heavily. Behind the facts and figures we have heard are millions of people’s lives.

We also came into COP26 knowing the work would not end in Glasgow. We will take the wins that have occured in Glasgow, but keep pushing on the things that still haven’t been achieved.  The climate crisis continues to grow more urgent each day, so we will keep going, keep praying, keep taking action. We remain resolute in holding world leaders to account for keeping their promises, urging richer nations to step up to their responsibilities, and calling for justice.

And we will continue to walk by faith and keep our eyes fixed on God, who can do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.

We leave you with the words of Kuki Rokhum from EFICOR, our Renew Our World partner in India. May these words ring in our ears as we depart from COP26.

‘We want justice for the poorest of the poor living in different parts of the world who live lightly and yet pay heavily. The time to act was yesterday, but God has still given us today.’