Following the publication of COP26’s final agreement, Molly Scott Cato, former Green MEP and now Professor of Economics at the University of Roehampton, says the event has failed in what history will see as our last chance to protect the world from disastrous over-heating.
“The fundamental purpose of COP26 was to ensure that our climate does not heat up by more than 1.5 degrees – by that measure, it has failed disastrously.
Nations know they have to cut emissions deeper and faster. Yet despite a limited increase in ambition, the majority of countries have failed to strengthen the promises they made in Paris in 2015, leading well-respected Carbon Action Tracker, to put the world on track for a calamitous 2.4 degrees of warming.
While the difference between 1.5 and 2.4 might not seem like very much, it is the difference between a liveable climate and one where thousands die from heat shock in Europe and millions are faced with starvation in Africa due to drought. It is the difference between the loss of all the coral in the world and having any chance of saving them. It is the difference between the Maldives or the Marshall Islands existing or simply disappearing under rising seas.
The absence of leaders from Russia and China, two of the world’s largest carbon emitters, and the last-minute intervention by India and China to water down the language on coal, have been pivotal to the event’s shortcomings. This is a diplomatic failure of the last few decades during which geopolitical maneuvering and self-interest have shamelessly dominated the climate crisis.
The countries that have signed up to the agreement cannot escape blame, with the majority putting self-interest above the common project of saving the climate. The need to remove fossil fuels from our global economy has been held up by many of the most powerful countries sheltering their fossil fuel interests, including the UK and US. The UK presidency lost focus on the global diplomacy at the heart of COP with its desire to tout for sustainable finance business for The City.
Meanwhile, the failure of the wealthy nations that are responsible for historic emissions to put money on the table to repair Loss-and-Damage made it impossible for Alok Sharma, in spite of his best efforts, to maintain a unity of purpose.
While this is a gloomy picture, there are some individual rays of light, with deals on methane and forests helping to reduce the burden on the atmosphere. And the acceptance of the need to phase out fossil fuels by countries responsible for the vast majority of the world’s economic activity can only be welcomed.
Yet in reality, COP26 has been a political and diplomatic failure. History will judge Glasgow as the last opportunity to protect civilization against the ravages of an over-heating climate and, another year of delay until COP27 in Egypt, means that opportunity has been missed.”
However, where politics failed to deliver, businesses made their mark which, for now, also mainly consists of promises, could indeed make a significant contribution in reducing emissions and conserving nature. As the Financial Review put it:
Something has shifted in the business world. The capital is flowing into the energy transition; investors are holding companies to account for their environmental, social and governance performance; and the risks and costs of going green are shifting in the climate’s favor.
Nevertheless, another year is wasted by moving decisions ahead again, to COP27 at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt. Ironically, it’s much warmer there than in Glasgow. Maybe that will put the heat on results a bit more.