If anyone missed it, the diplomatic pantomime of Cop26 has unfolded over this past fortnight. Well, I’ve been somewhat distracted, so a few weeks ago now. Proceedings were ushered in under the shadow of the UN’s latest IPCC report declaring a “code red for humanity. And, well, “We showed up” said Joe Biden, criticising China and Russia over their lack of involvement on climate issues. Well, you certainly did show up, Joe, in an 85-vehicle convoy including five planes. A valuable display of affluent pageantry, reinforced by politicised messaging, that the earth will no doubt enjoy.
Admittedly, China and Russia were among the notable absences, which should be highlighted, until a dramatic twist ending. But sole blame cannot be apportioned to them. British diplomats were not especially enticing, indeed displaying little enthusiasm for attending themselves. Additionally, it’s hardly fair to condemn specific nations when international corporations represent some of the worst offenders.
That said, it would have been nice to see Brazil or Saudi Arabia also dispatch representatives. Instead, the latter has doubled-down on oil worship, even planning to launch an oil rig-themed amusement park. Of course, despite declining to comment on deforestation early in the first week, Brazil later deciding cutting methane emissions might be beneficial.
In the early stages of the conference, Boris Johnson and Joe Biden might have been physically present, but had long-since clocked out mentally. Both appearing to doze off made for bad press coverage, whilst also evidencing exactly the kind of firm commitment from dynamic leaders we need.
Australia’s Scott Morrison also made a poor start. Spending most of the G20 summit apparently lobbying against phasing out fossil fuels in advance of Cop26, he then found himself embattled against French anger for abandoning their submarine deal. It’s unfortunate that an armaments agreement would take priority over climate discussions, but I suppose that’s diplomacy.
Cross-hairs surely returned to Facebook after an investigation discovered only 8% of climate breakdown denial posts were flagged as misinformation. That will presumably be little more than a sidenote, in relation to both Facebook’s ongoing difficulties and the wider Cop26.
Distraction and greenwashing continues to dominate proceedings. The greatest polluters on earth are holding themselves to self-designated metrics and delivering the absolute bare minimum, whilst trumpeting their own supposed achievements. Even the nebulous term ‘carbon neutral’ lacks any real meaning, and sets no definitive obligation to reduce emissions. Tree planting and carbon offsetting schemes do not work, and yet they’re prioritised as a convenient way to present change without actually sufficiently contributing. The living planet is breaking down and set to degrade much further. Fossil fuel pollution already accounts for an estimated 18-21.5% of all global deaths, and the estimates regarding even minor temperature increases are catastrophic.
But we already knew the stakes heading into Cop26. The opening days witnessed promises to move trillions of dollars into cleaner energy, reversals on deforestation, plans to cut methane emissions, and to open new markets that would improve the availability of clean technology. Countries have been moving away from coal, at least in speeches and pledges. South Africa will receive £6bn to abandon coal, whilst Indian Primate Minister Modi set aggressive targets for low-carbon power.
A joint statement on ending public financing for fossil fuels oversees was another distinct positive. 20 signatories, including the US, UK, and Canada, are set to withdraw a combined £13bn each year in support of fossil fuels. It also reaffirms the hard 1.5˚C warming limit. Hardcore pessimists might wonder if this is undermined by the US government currently auctioning drilling rights in Alaskan waters and the Gulf of Mexico, or the UK’s development of a new coal mine in Cumbria. Well, probably yes.
Activists have been another prominent feature. I’ve personally been long-conflicted regarding their impact. Yes, I do already appreciate how grave climate breakdown is. I just find the notion of anyone remaining ignorant unfathomable. So, is it productive to cause public disruptions that ultimately alienate the cause they’re promoting? Of course, it’s naïve to assume everyone has a basic level of education, because some people truly are that stupid. Which is precisely the kind of language that’s unhelpful, because belittling such groups will not incline them to educate themselves. Still, I doubt any climate breakdown deniers will read this. If you do, and disagree with my words, please perform any internet search for ‘climate change’. You’ll be astonished. Sarcasm aside, in conversations I’ve had these past weeks, it’s genuinely remarkable how little knowledge some people have.
Week two ushered in the genuine mechanics driving Cop26 proceedings. After what was presumably a miserable holiday in Glasgow, the politicians left, abandoning the scientists and diplomats to actual work.
A key report brought good news. The short-term, actionable changes promised in the early stages of Cop26 would witness cataclysmic temperature rises of 2.4˚C by the end of the Century, which is actually pretty bad news. So far, so bad, without any signs of improvement. Perhaps at this point, I should note that my writing has evolved alongside the conference. These paragraphs have not been reactive to the whole, but each day’s progress. I would like nothing more than to have completely misfired with my tone in the opening.
Instead, in spite of poorer nations and smaller island states making impassioned pleas, they generally fell on deaf ears.
Until I was pleasantly surprised, if still resolutely sceptical, by China’s environmental representatives wading into the fray, demanding richer nations be held more accountable. The irony or criticising Joe Biden for allocating blame in the same breath was not lost on me, but it apparently led to a commitment of cooperation between the two superpowers. Brilliant.
A few weeks ago, I asked whether any climate optimists existed. That question remains pertinent as ever. Personally, my cynicism has survived unscathed. This past fortnight, by spotlighting the gravity of our climate crisis, has encouraged many more to reflect upon and engage with these vital conversations. Ingenious solutions do exist, and could potentially be implemented with breath-taking rapidity, should governments or even resource-rich individuals commit to them. Change can and must be fast. We already have the conditions and materials. The lingering problem? A lack of intent from the people who matter. The opposing camps might have fluctuated in number, but remain as divided as ever. Corporate leaders and government delegates continually demonstrate no interest in climate proposals, instead remaining faithful to economic interests. The plague of capitalism with tear itself, and the world, apart.
We’ve now all had valuable time to reflect on the proceedings, if not entirely omit them from our collective memories. It is a tragic reflection of our national attention span, and the development of national disasters, that already Cop26 has fallen from the news sphere.
Ultimately, I think it could have been worse. True, the final agreement was weakened in the final stages. Many of the specific terms argued over will probably prove arbitrary, and whether any of this can be enforced is yet to be seen. But some people did try. The real work comes now. Cop26 was but a fortnight. Change can be fast, but not that fast. This is the time to capitalise upon momentum and work towards actionable changes. We can all alter our outlooks. Start thinking more environmentally. Have conversations with friends and family, encourage them to do the same. Boycott coal and natural gas.
If Alok Sharma’s tears could heal the earth, we’d be just fine.
So, thanks for coming, everyone. It’ll be interesting to see who survives the next five years of volatile climate breakdown to simply show up next time.
Thanks for reading! It will be interesting to see if there are any changes to report in the following months.
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