Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation

Yesterday was officially gender-equality day at COP26 in Glasgow, with a focus on the role of women, who across the developing world will have to bear the brunt of the climate emergency. A UN report found that 80% of those displaced by the climate emergency are women. Women and girls in poor countries suffer disproportionately from climate breakdown, being on average poorer, less educated and more dependent on subsistence farming.



Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment

Yet the main headline coming out of COP26 yesterday was the forecast by research group Climate Action Tracker (CAT) that the world’s temperature is on track to reach 2.4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This forecast is significantly higher than the 1.8C increase forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA) last week, which was based on the optimistic premise that countries would live up to all of the new commitments they signed up to in Glasgow.

CAT’s calculation suggests that the 1.5C cap set at the Paris agreement of 2015 is still a distant goal. The forecast also warned that despite all the new measures agreed in Glasgow at COP26, greenhouse-gas emissions by the end of this decade could be twice as high as required to keep global warming down to 1.5C. This damning forecast was described as “looking through a telescope at an asteroid hurtling towards the Earth” by Greenpeace executive director Jennifer Morgan.

However, it has to be said that the world's outlook has improved somewhat since the Paris climate summit in 2015. Six years ago, CAT estimated that despite all the policies agreed there, mankind was on a course to warm the planet by 3.6C.

The methodological difference between the IEA and CAT forecasts comes from the inclusion of long-term pledges to reach net zero emissions by 2050, with China giving itself the target of 2060 and India of 2070. If every country did implement their agreed long-term net zeroes, then 1.8C by the end of the century could indeed be possible. But by 2030 it may be too late – the next eight years will be crucial. Unless a serious roadmap is drawn up to take urgent steps to cut emissions by the end of this decade, Glasgow will go down in history as a failure.

The UK Met Office warned in Glasgow yesterday that one billion people will be affected by extreme heat stress if the global temperature rises by just 2C. That includes heating to the point that the human body cannot cool itself by sweating leading to an intense heat overload followed by a failure of the body's thermoregulatory mechanisms.

We must change our behaviour

Britain’s and Canada’s chief scientist advisers said yesterday that substantial changes in behaviour are needed to tackle the climate emergency. Sir Patrick Vallance said that behavioural change was already starting to happen, but more was needed. He said he cycled to work, ate less meat and had taken the train to COP26. Sir Patrick told the BBC that the climate crisis was far bigger (“a fifty- to a hundred-year problem”) than coronavirus (“a two-to-four-year problem”) and would kill more people if immediate changes were not made. Canada’s chief scientific adviser, Mona Nemer, said there needs to be a “profound behavioural and cultural change in terms of our relation to the Earth”.

However, the role of individual behaviour is more controversial, as most politicians are wary of imposing restrictions on their electorates’ freedoms to eat beef or fly. The UK government had published a study proposing taxes on high-carbon food and a reduction in frequent flying, but then withdrew it, saying that it does not plan to dictate consumer behaviour. But will leaving such decisions down to billions of individuals, many of whom are driven solely by short-term selfish motivation, be enough to save the climate?

The female point of view

“The world as designed by men has destroyed many things,” delegates heard, as speakers warned that the climate crisis could not be ended without the empowerment of women. Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hailed Joe Biden’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis, but said the US has “to deliver to get credit on climate change”. The focus on gender equality yesterday also saw indigenous women and politicians including Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, demand increased investment.

Day 1: BPCC’s green blog on COP 26 in Glasgow
Day 2: Methane emission pledge hailed as success on second day of COP26
Day 3: Coal and climate finance are the focus of the third day of COP26
Day 4: Youth activism flavours fourth day of COP26
Day 7: Barack Obama’s speech highlighted start of second week of COP26
Day 8: Gender equality – focus of eighth day of COP26 – overshadowed by new heat calculation
Day 10&11: China-US ‘breakthrough’ as final statement is hammered out
Summary: COP26 disappoints with the loss of strong commitment