On the 6th November, as I was walking past the climate protest on Cornmarket in Oxford, I saw several children, adults, and elderly people walking down the street with a sign asking: “COP26 or COP OUT?”
In the past weeks leaders from all around the world have gathered in Glasgow to discuss how to make sure our planet is still liveable in a century. *Correction*: leaders from almost all around the world gathered in Glasgow, since Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, the leaders of China and Russia – both in the top 5 of largest CO2 emitting countries – decided to not show face in Scotland. Can a conference about fighting climate change be effective in any way, if the leaders of two of the countries who contribute most to climate change are not attending? It is hard to believe that much can be done without their involvement, but can we seriously believe that had they been there it would have been very different?
Last April, newly elected US president Joe Biden held a virtual climate summit and managed to get leaders (including Xi and Putin) around a table to make vows to reduce emissions and achieve carbon neutrality. This extraordinary summit was meant to strengthen Biden’s position as leader of the fight against climate change, especially during the COP26 negotiations. However, more than six months later, diplomatic tensions, just like temperatures around the world, have not ceased to rise. After the disastrous retreat of US troops from Afghanistan, America can no longer dictate the world’s political agenda and expect everyone to follow. Biden closing his address by asking God to do the job for him (“May God save the Planet”), should tell us not to place too many hopes on his leadership. Similarly, tensions between France and the United Kingdom caused first by the cancelled submarine deal, then by the current fishing war that puts the countries on either side of the channel in opposition to each other, have not created an atmosphere that promotes cooperation. With allies not speaking and major polluters not attending, perhaps COP26 was a cop-out.
On paper, leaders in Glasgow have vowed to lower their methane emissions by 30% before the end of the decade and to heighten their efforts in preserving forests and natural habitats which are key to the stability of the global climate. However, it is difficult to look at these engagements optimistically when 1) most countries are likely to not follow through, and 2) even if they were to commit, the UN’s climate commission believes that these efforts will prove insufficient in keeping the rise of global temperatures below 1.5 degrees before the end of the century.
Greta Thunberg too, the face of the fight against climate change, has no doubts about the conference being a “failure”. Like many of the thousands of climate activists that were in Glasgow during the past few weeks, she opined that COP26 was just another “greenwashing” stunt, out of which no change will result. Despite promises and pledges that have been made during the conference, there is not much that guarantees any of them will be kept. After all, it would not be the first time that countries cop out of their climate engagements. Even the Paris COP21 agreement in 2015, which was deemed “the world’s greatest diplomatic success”, has yet to bear its fruits. Almost seven years later, most countries have not even started to put into place any action that will allow them to achieve their targets (not mentioning countries that have yet to define their targets).
With all this in mind, we can’t help but ask ourselves whether leaders care about leaving a planet behind on which the next generations can live. Luckily, this question is easy to answer when looking at our own Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who was seen falling asleep next to UN General Secretary and Sir David Attenborough at the opening ceremony and was unable to resist making jokes and references to James Bond during his speech, which received few laughs. To top everything, he felt it was necessary to replace the four and a half hour train journey from Glasgow to London with a private jet flight to attend a reunion at a private gentlemen’s club with the confessed climate change sceptic, Charles Moore. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to believe that he takes the climate crisis seriously.
The COP26 might well have been another failure on the environmental front, with leaders happy to speak about the urgency of the situation, but far less willing to act upon it. It is frustrating to see that even after a year in which climate change-induced catastrophes have been more frequent than ever, with wildfires raging on all four corners of the world including Siberia, and floods causing devastating loss of human life in countries like Germany, there is still no impetus for leaders of developed nations to take drastic action. Furthermore, Glasgow has once more shown that there are plenty of solutions to reverse the curves of emissions and global warming. It will undoubtedly involve changing how the world works – how we supply our lives and where we invest our money – but there are solutions, but solutions which need to be applied soon. Sadly, for now, those who have the most leverage to implement change are not willing to do so, which casts doubt over the future of human life on this planet.
Image Credit: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing St / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0