TL;DR: The COP26 meetings closed with a whimper as realpolitik dashed dreams of an immediate green revolution. The insular community that thrives at COP meetings will continue to face major obstacles as it tries to get national legislatures to work against their countries’ own interests.
As was the case for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, COP26 in Glasgow was a tragedy of ambition. Officially, the “Glasgow Climate Change Conference of the UNFCCC COP26” produced a unanimous “Glasgow Climate Pact.” According to conventional wisdom, the pact provides a useful update to the landmark Paris agreement in 2015. Unofficially, there was a lot of strutting and an overwhelming amount of fretting. Indeed, the tale of the conference is that it may ultimately signify nothing.
The pact urges wealthy nations to double financial commitments by 2025 to the nations’ most vulnerable to climate change and to return next year — three years ahead of schedule — with more aggressive plans to curb greenhouse emissions. The technical meetings produced new rules, including for measurement and oversight, for carbon-offset markets. Though the conference officially ended on Friday, a final agreement wasn’t reached until late Saturday.
The conference president, Britain’s Ashok Sharma, choked up during the final session as he apologized for the lack of transparency and last-minute changes to the consensus text that transformed the draft text’s “phase out” of coal as a fuel for electric power to a “phase down” in the final pact. The formal objection, and hardball refusal to budge from its position, came from India. Yet, other nations that had primarily focused on growth — such as China — quietly supported the change.
Two central elements of the playbook for collective action are to generate urgency and to show momentum. For decades, climate activists and climate professionals alike have banged the drum for urgency. But event organizers may have overreached when they billed the event as the last best hope to keep the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Partnerships were announced, such as nonbinding agreements on deforestation and methane emissions, which were sold as evidence of momentum. The reality, though, is that there is no stomach for slashing carbon-dioxide emissions in half during the next eight years — the goal set by COP26’s organizers. Indeed, “ambition” was COP26’s tragic flaw. While it led to grand pronouncements spurring urgency, momentum petered out when the prospect of working against near-term growth was demanded of member countries.
There is a clear disconnect about COP26. Campaigners for climate activism and what they see as eco-justice were left bitterly disappointed. The official line coming out of the larger and wealthier countries’ governments was that what was agreed in Glasgow was a step in the right direction and shows the way toward future progress. Members of the Group of 77 — officially 134 nations that are smaller, more vulnerable, or less wealthy — voiced deep disappointment at the lack of commitment to the handouts they expect, both to compensate for the effects of past emissions and to pay for future investments in clean-power technologies. (Incidentally, China is a member of that group, too, which is at once a world superpower, rapidly developing, and categorized among the poorest nations on earth.)
These positions were captured in a commentary for the (left-leaning) Guardian that is long on snark, harsh to British prime minister Boris Johnson, and not entirely off the mark. Elsewhere, the Guardian called COP26 a failure.
Read the full article at National Review.