COP-26 is Over: What Next for the Humanitarian Sector?

Two weeks on from the COP-26 conference in Glasgow, and the climate crisis has begun to slip from the headlines. But World Jewish Relief, along with the entire humanitarian sector, is continuing to unpack the outcomes of the conference. The sector must reckon with important questions. What do the various commitments of ‘the Glasgow Climate Pact’ on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and scaling up climate finance really mean for the world’s most vulnerable people? And how must the humanitarian sector adapt in order to meet an unprecedented increase in demand?

The first question boils down to whether the Glasgow Pact is ambitious enough to prevent human suffering, and the answer is complicated. There are many reasons why this annual meeting on climate negotiations received more press attention than in previous years. COP-26 came at a critical time, and provided a final chance to ‘keep 1.5 degrees alive’. It was the first meeting since wealthy nations missed the deadline to provide $100 bn a year in climate finance to low- and middle-income countries, and since the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the usual processes of climate negotiations.

On the one hand, important agreements were signed; many governments agreed that by 2030 they would end deforestation and would reduce methane emissions by 30%. However, the pledges on cutting greenhouse gas emissions did not go far enough; even if governments keep to all of them, global temperature rise is expected to reach 2.4 degrees by the end of the century, a disastrous increase from 1.5 degrees. And whilst governments renewed their commitments to provide $100bn a year in climate finance, they only agreed to do this by 2023. Governments also agreed to renew their emissions pledges next year, instead of in five years as previously planned. Some officials claim that this means COP-26’s official goal of ‘keeping 1.5 degrees alive’ was met, and that humanity still has a final chance to avoid climate catastrophe.

But if the goal is to prevent human suffering, the Glasgow Pact is not ambitious enough. Even if we do manage to stay within 2.4, or 1.5 degrees warming, climate-related disasters are already becoming more common and more intense, agricultural systems are being disrupted, and people are being forced to migrate. Humanitarian organisations will do everything they can to meet the unprecedented increases in basic needs, but the scale of this crisis requires more than the emergency response model that the sector was built upon.

As we move on from COP-26, it is clear that governments and humanitarian organisations must both adapt to cope with this crisis. Humanitarian organisations must adapt their programme activities so that they focus more on preparedness, and are therefore able to prevent extreme weather events from turning into humanitarian disasters. But this can only happen when wealthier nations provide much greater investment, for preparedness as well as longer term adaptation and disaster risk reduction.

In the meantime, the humanitarian sector is continuing to adapt, with innovative finance models and preparedness interventions. But the next COP will be just as critical.

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