The COP26 conclusion? Not enough
The UN’s global gathering on climate change, which was held in Glasgow, ended on Saturday. This year’s summit – COP26 – proved a milestone for a number of reasons. It was one, if not the first global gathering of such magnitude, which summoned most of the world’s leaders physically for the first time since the onset of the Covid19 pandemic.
The start of the summit, which had been delayed because of the health crisis, was highly anticipated.
The urgency of the climate crisis, as well as the increasing recognition on behalf of world leaders, the scientific community and the global elite that this is indeed the most alarming threat that is being posed on the world, has summoned a more potent sense of willingness to act.
After two weeks of speeches, demagoguery, protests by activists and even domestic scandals on behalf of the host country, the announcement was made on Saturday that world leaders would commit to stave off the dangerous implications of climate change. The announcement mentioned by name for the first time, after nearly 25 years of climate change negotiations the main cause of climate change, fossil fuels.
While this year’s summit was the first in its history that forced a commitment by world leaders to explicitly plan out a way of addressing and reducing coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse emissions, the language – and the level of commitment that was promised at this summit – had been watered down.
Even though the direction of the discourse at the summit veers towards an end to the coal era, there are other serious threat actors to climate that have not been mentioned, such as oil and gas.
This not only gives a free pass to oil rich countries to continue to extract and abuse its natural resources, further polluting it, but it also sends a strong message that the ambitions and promises made at the beginning of this summit have proved to be rather empty.
In addition, to hit the target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees – the level scientists argue is necessary to avert some of the worst consequences of global warming, will not be met with the current plan set out to cut big emissions.
While the global summit was nowhere near what it promised to deliver – the result of a decision that was going to end the crisis – it did prove to be a starting point. UK Prime Minster Boris Johnson called it “the first international agreement to phase down coal and a roadmap to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees”.
If fulfilled, the current pledges would limit global warming only to about 2.4 degrees. And, for the scientific community and those most affected by it – this commitment is nowhere near enough.
A future in which the world is not doing everything it can to limit global warming by the standards that are required would “set the stage for worsening storms, wildfires, droughts and sea-level rise, as well as the social and economic upheaval that would accompany a widening climate crisis” The New York Times reports.
However, in order to attain “climate justice” (a concept that addresses the ethical dimensions of climate change, relating the causes and effects of climate change to concepts of justice, particularly environmental justice and social justice) – entails stifling off a set of interests that some of the world’s greatest powers are grappling with.
Whether it be Beijing, New Delhi or Washington, these are just some of a handful of countries whose leaders could truly influence the success of this target commitment and whether these promises are kept.
However, the pressures are complex and impending – from industry interests that stay in the way of regulation to demands from developing countries to finance its transition from fossil fuels and an ever more vocal public and electorate, who is pushing for a faster transition to a sustainable and more climate-friendly economy.
On national levels, the political incentive to drive climate change forward has had its impediments. While US president Biden, who is trying to pass sweeping climate legislation in Congress, he is being challenged not only by the Republicans, but by his own party.
At the same time, Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has just been anointed by his own party the most powerful leader since Mao, is grappling with the prospect of reigning in fossil fuel consumption, since coal has been the main engine behind China’s economic rise.
In the same line of discourse, India has severely weakened the language of the final agreement when it comes to the country’s commitment of boosting renewable energy forces by five times by 2030.
When it comes to the world’s greatest powers (and emitters), the success of this international effort to curb climate change is uncertain. The countries may be even faced with having to compromise between political efficiency and climate awareness – while countries are pledging to limit global warming, they also have to abide by their political agendas, and infrastructure plans are always top of the list.
Building roads and airports is necessary, but they are also significant sources of carbon dioxide emissions.
While climate activists, worried citizens and the youth have started to become more vocal on this issue – even to the point of suing their own governments for oil and gas projects, such as the case of Mikaela Loach in Britain – the success or failure of these climate promises could influence not only what regulations may come up next, but also the way certain industries chose to evolve and change, posing a real test to their propensity for sustainable innovation.
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