COP26 – Is it all over?

Published: 2021-11-29

In the wake of the recently-held UN Climate Conference (COP26, or the 26th Conference of Parties), this month’s blog post features a perspective by Dr Malcolm Beveridge, IFS Board of Trustees Vice-Chair and Visiting Professor at the University of Stirling in Scotland.

Dr Malcolm Beveridge

Like millions of others, I was transfixed by COP26, arguably the most important global gathering in the past hundred years. The meeting was taking place only 70 km from my home, in Glasgow, where I’d studied aquatic ecology 40 years ago. Did the proximity afford me any insights? I don’t think so. Like everyone, other than those who were in Glasgow, inside or outside the Green and Blue Zones, my take on the meeting has come from media reports. I’ve also just had a first read-through of the Glasgow Climate Pact.[1]

It’s clear that progress has been made, but nowhere near enough if we are to keep global warming within the agreed 1.5 degrees target. Recognising this, the Glasgow Pact requests parties to reconvene next year with more ambitious climate plans to further cut climate greenhouse gas emissions. We also learned that rich countries continue to largely ignore their historic emissions or compensate vulnerable countries for the damage already done, contrary to the wishes of the majority of countries. Finally, while some loopholes have been closed, more work is needed on the extremely complex world of carbon markets, which despite some reform still offer countries and companies with fossil fuel interests the possibility of operating business (nearly) as usual[2].

What next? First, we must have hope: 1.5 is still alive – just. We are all citizens of somewhere or other and can choose to become activists. Make no mistake, without activism our elected leaders would not have agreed to go even this far. We can also take greater personal responsibility. Forget recycling plastic bags; yes, it’s well worth doing but it’s not going to save the planet. Only a complete change in lifestyles will do that. In sum, those of us in rich countries must consume less – much less – of everything. This is a message that politicians believe to be a vote loser, and so we must take personal responsibility to make this happen.

Wearing my IFS hat, it is more important than ever that early career scientists from low- and lower-middle-income countries seek ways to help reduce the social, environmental, and economic impacts of climate change. Many of you live in countries on the front line of climate change. You know best the problems in your home areas. So, submit a convincing case for support that shows you understand the problem, what needs to be done, and how to execute the work in a scientifically rigorous manner. In this way, you can help build the scientific skills you need to shape research and policy agendas, while at the same time helping the most vulnerable and marginalised cope with the worst effects of climate change.


[2] For further information, recommended sources include The Conversation ( and SciDev (


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