There are two ways to view the United Nations’ COP26 convocation in Glasgow that ended this past weekend. Either COP26 was a complete failure for the planet and a win for the fossil fuel industries, or COP26 accomplished part of its mission to highlight how far we have come in ten years and what we must do in the next ten years. An element of truth may be found in both views.
The typical method for evaluating laws and initiatives on climate change hinges on three criteria. The first is a baseline of cutting carbon emissions by 50% by 2030. The second is stopping or substantially reducing government subsidies to fossil fuel industries. The last criterion is a carbon tax or carbon-producer penalties that curb carbon producing behaviors. COP26 did not produce any policies that address any of these three criteria.
Therefore COP26 was a complete failure.
Except, the United Nations and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has no authority to enforce anything in any agreement. In the Paris Agreement, UNFCCC was tasked with structuring and publicizing voluntary national goals and commitments. The original COP agreement cannot make any country or corporation do anything.
This lack of authority and weakened encouragement to act is what Greta Thunberg was referring to when she condemned the prodigious diplomatic production of empty sentiments and weak commitments as “blah, blah, blah.” The negotiations were mostly between white men over the age of sixty years who arrived at the conference on private or chartered jets. The last point to the sense of failure is more lobbyists for the fossil fuels industries attended than diplomats.
The final agreement in Glasgow is hollow and dependent on the voluntary cooperation of governments and corporations – just as it was envisioned in the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement, even with its voluntary mandate, is working though. Ten years ago, the world was well on its way to a 4oC – 6oC rise in ambient temperature by 2100. At Glasgow, the scientists announced we have bent the curve downward to 2.7oC. No one will argue we have saved the planet from climate change yet, but the trajectory is in the correct direction. Despite the billions of dollars spent in the past ten years by the fossil fuel industry to defeat renewable energy and climate change legislation, we are still accomplishing systemic change.
Towards this incremental trend downwards, a global treaty on methane was brokered by the USA and UK, which was signed by more than 100 countries. A 24/7 Carbon-free Energy Compact was formed that cemented the partnership between renewable energy companies with Sustainable Energy for All and UN Energy. Over 100 companies pledged to stop deforestation by 2030, which is weak because the Amazon Basin could be entirely deforested before then. Organizations and governments pledged $10.5 billion towards helping emerging economies transition from fossil fuels. No more financing is allowed for international fossil fuel projects. Public financing for overseas coal projects is ending.
As the last ten years have shown and Glasgow confirmed, national governments are going to be the cars at the back of the train. NGO’s, renewable energy companies, scientists, engineers, non-national governments (state and local), and climate activists are driving the train.
We bid goodbye to the utterly dismal threat of complete extinction of the planet and life. Though tentative and not at full strength, we celebrate the successes at turning the tide and reversing the global warming trend. Although we are not close to our goal, we have made great strides that should give us hope and renew our strength to continue the legislative and regulatory battles that loom.
Yes, when community organizers declare “you are the change,” Glasgow COP 26 confirms it. As a fellow citizen of the planet, thank you.
For a deep dive into the statements made above, go to https://climateactiontracker.org/publications/glasgows-2030-credibility-gap-net-zeros-lip-service-to-climate-action/