COP26. A Summit of ‘Hope’ or Shame and Betrayal?
It was difficult to assess the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly referred to as COP26, and the resulting Glasgow Climate Pact as anything other than a failure.
In the eve of the conference, Todd Stern, former U.S. President Barack Obama’s chief climate negotiator, said this, “All hell is breaking loose. The notion that it’s going to be really freaking bad at 1.5 degrees, let alone 2. I’m a complete believer in that,” said “That doesn’t answer the question of whether it’s realistic, but I think I would much rather set my sights on that.”
At that point, you would notice that there were almost no chance that the almost-200 countries gathering in Scotland will agree to bear the economic and political pain to make the kind of radical emissions cuts needed to hit that goal.
Fair enough to say, it was the first U.N. climate agreement that explicitly targets fossil fuels, and coal in particular, as driving climate change. It recognizes that significant near 50 percent cuts in emissions over the next decade are required to hit the increasingly urgent goal of capping global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
New pledges on carbon trading, coal finance, deforestation and methane gas pollution were also produced.
One expert says, “The reality is that, despite major progress since the Paris Agreement was signed six years ago, the 1.5-degree limit is already a zombie target: not really alive, but not allowed to die because it underpins a U.N. climate process that depends on at least some optimistic belief that humanity can save itself from disaster.”
Then came the final agreement that was a disappointment. It considerably diminished from drafts circulated only days before the summit began. More alarming are the omissions.
If the United Nations Development Program is correct, then COP26 will result in a world that warms 2.5 degrees Celsius, which means that the key goal of the 2015 Paris agreement holding warming to 1.5 Celsius will not be met. That condemns millions, if not billions, of people to lives of greater misery, hardship and, in some cases, death.
What was meant to be a new beginning of hope turned into betrayal, and blame game. The Global North pointing figure at developing countries, especially big ones like China, India and Indonesia, for not doing enough to cut emissions. But those big emitters and poorer developing countries blame rich countries for not doing enough on their own emissions or giving enough cash to help poorer ones green their economies and cope with climate change.
Another betrayal was the intentional exclusion of young activists like Greta Thunberg, pushing for real change, left a lot of questions than answers whether this conference was just another holiday picnic.
It was hard to believe that a meeting heralded as ‘the last best hope’ by the president of COP26, British lawmaker Aloc Sharma, fell short. Blame entrenched interests, political will or, perhaps most alarming, indifference to the plight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens. All reflect an inability to muster the courage and the clarity required to address an existential crisis.
If the world leaders that represented more than 85 percent of the world’s forest could listen to the voice of the future generation, then they ought to have realized that the time for talk is long past. It is only action that counts now.