This blog post is provided by Associate Editor, Peter Bridgewater, from the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, Sheffield Hallam University and University of Canberra

There were several nice blogs across BES Journals on getting to Glasgow, but it seems useful to stocktake “where to now.” In a television interview former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull opined early on that COP26 would be “better than Copenhagen, but not as good as Paris”. How right he was. Simply put, COP26 was a Curates Egg.

I apologise to fans for taking the name of the new wave (now old wave) pop-band in vain, but it seemed appropriate.  Laveesh Bhandari headed a recent article “Don’t cry for me, Alok Sharma”, so I guess we are all seeking refuge in music, as we set out on the road from Glasgow.  This is not the first Climate Change COP where tears were shed at the podium, usually in frustration.  The current Executive Secretary of the Convention in (tear-free) concluding remarks said “..few return home completely satisfied. But this is the nature of consensus and inclusive multilateralism.”  While she is right, seeking consensus, rather than majority views, will inevitably lead to lowest common denominator solutions. Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro where the Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Biodiversity (CBD) conventions were born, conventional wisdom has been that consensus is the only way. And yet conventions developed before 1992 can vote on issues if they wish. That capacity inevitably concentrates minds and should be reconsidered for all conventions.

Having the high-level meeting at the start of COP26 with many set speeches intoning the severity of the situation, was unusual but the UK seemed to want to make this theatrical statement. It backfired, as little new was offered and then they all flew home, leaving their negotiators to, well, negotiate. In the past the high-level segment has typically come at the end, where there is always a chance of moving the unmovable – as I noted in an earlier blog that is what happened in Copenhagen, poor though that was.  

But to the road we are on now, towards Cairo in just under 12 months. Certainly, incremental progress has been made in several areas. The sustainability commentator Felix Dodds recently  noted “if you think we were on the trajectory of 4-6C rise before Paris and looking at 3-4C after Paris and after Glasgow 2-2.4C then progress has been quicker than over previous decade. Add to this that these will now be looked at again in 2022 and are expecting additional commitments – this is a positive outcome” But what remains to do is still huge. Looming large is the lack of full commitment to the long-promised financing (the $100 billion question) that is yet to be reached. Yet wins there were – China and the US had a coming together on forests, Methane had a higher than usual profile and Mission Innovation was launched by 22 countries and the EU, including work on carbon dioxide removal, green powered energy for the future and clean hydrogen.

A key failing, observed by several commentators, was process disconnection. Ian Scoones from the Institute of Development Studies nailed it: “…there was little meaningful interchange between different positions. Two worlds talked past each other or – because of restricted access, problems with visas and the high costs of attending –- never even met”  In fact there were more than two worlds – academics thinking they were at a conference, NGOs thinking it was advocacy session, Indigenous peoples fighting for cultural survival. The business sector was yet another world, meeting in “pavilions” in specific areas of the COP space and derided by some commentators for so doing. Yet progress was made between business on what to do to adapt to rapidly approaching new realities, and the need to form partnerships never previously contemplated. All this while the governments argued and nagged at each other over where to put the comma or – critically – use of the words “out” or “down” with respect to coal.

There is much talk that the Paris desideratum of limiting of global temperature rise to 1.5C is on “life support.”  It will require much more to give it CPR and breathe life back. True, there is now a “work program to define the global goal on adaptation.”  But it is incomprehensible that all we have is a work program on this matter. As mitigation slips through our fingers, adaptation is all we have left. But adaptation is where ecologists can make their most significant contribution, and where ecological paradigms that involve people’s actions on, for, and with nature are ever more important.

The road from Glasgow is littered with cans kicked down over the years, added to from COP26. But this potholed terrain has hopeful signs. So, as ecologists, let us take advantage of these hopeful signs, and ensure that COP27 is infused with the outcomes from the upcoming CBD COP15, making sure that COP15 is successful, with a new and powerful Global Biodiversity Framework as the key result. But to ensure that success, we need to lift our eyes from 30*30; Nine actions for the UK to be nature positive by 2030 and sundry other catchy concepts that are, alas,  old wine in old bottles. Understanding nature conservation is not about building fortresses, but about linking sustainable use, benefit sharing, and stewardship is key the future of the biosphere – and, with that, the future of the atmosphere and hydrosphere. For ecologists, while this seems impossible, “this is your mission, should you choose to accept it.”  Unlike the Mission Impossible guys, we have no choice….