COP26, Success or Failure?
Whether one considers COP26 a success or not depends on one’s perspective.
Indigenous peoples, the Alliance of Small Island States, people who are vulnerable to extreme weather events and those who grasp the magnitude of the catastrophe that awaits because of the rapid breakdown of the stable climate we have enjoyed since the end of the last ice-age consider COP26 an abysmal failure. For the most part these groups have little economic and political power. The most powerful political and economic players generally consider COP26 a success. This group includes the fossil fuel industries, large corporations, banks, insurance companies, wealthy individuals and the politicians who benefit one way or another from their largess.
The interest group that had the largest number of delegates at COP26 was the fossil fuel industry with 500 people. Their role was to ensure that agreements were within the perimeters of the dominant economic paradigm. This is to say that the agreements did not meaningfully deal with eco-justice or reorient the international economic order towards meeting wellbeing needs but continue to pursue the impossible to realise the aim of infinite economic growth. The large number of representatives from the fossil fuel industry was probably unnecessary as most governments share their economic fantasy.
Among the outcomes was that the 12-year old agreement to transfer $100 billion annually to low-income countries to help them transition to eco-friendly technologies, prepare for and recover from the ravages of climate breakdown, was not met. The delegates agreed to return to the matter 12-months hence. In the meantime the needs of people in low-income countries who suffer from climate breakdown related weather events will go unmet, and as any agreement reached is not legally binding the annual transfer may never materialise. The $100 billion may seem a lot but in the view of John Kerry’s chief negotiator, trillions rather than billions are needed. The amount is between $2.6 trillion and £4.6 trillion every year. The hope of the Biden administration is that this will be in the form of private capital, which means the money will be directed towards profit making enterprises rather than those which pay ecological, and by extension, human wellbeing dividends.
An agreement was reached to end deforestation by 2030 and $17 billion was committed towards this end. This sum, insufficient as it is, may well materialise but will it go to corrupt politicians and functionaries or be administered by the indigenous communities on whose lands most deforestation is taking place? Given the head-spinning rate of deforestation what will be left of these bio-rich, water regulating, carbon absorbing ecosystems that are home to millions of people by 2030? Indigenous people ask why the wait? They want deforestation to end now. If banks, art galleries and properties of all kinds are protected 24/7 by guards, security apparatus and legislation why are forests not given the protection they need?
That said the rich countries are not wholly at fault. Within 24-hours of the agreement Indonesia, a country endowed with rainforests, said it had no intention of ending deforestation within the decade. The announcement was not welcomed by the indigenous peoples of the country.
Another headline grabbing agreement was the commitment of 450 major financial institutions in 45 countries to manage their collective assets totalling over $130 trillion in line with achieving zero global warming emissions by 2050. It transpired that this was not what it seemed as the financial institutions are free to invest in new fossil fuel projects. This is a classic Alice in Wonderland trick of believing in two contradictory things at the same time otherwise known as cognisant dissonance.
Among the other feeble agreements was the one on coal made on the fourth day of the conference and the one on cars made in the second week. It transpired that some of the signatories to the agreement on coal do not use coal and the major economies that do, including China, India and the US did not sign it. Although the agreement not to produce fossil fuel engines after 2040 was signed by some major car manufacturers others, including BMW, Toyota and Volkswagen, did not sign.
Many would consider 2040, in fact the lack of immediacy and robustness of all of the agreements, as indicative of the fact that the powerful entered COP26 with the intention of making the most miserly commitments they could towards meeting the Paris Agreement’s red line of keeping the average global temperature below 1.5C by 2050. If this was the case they succeeded.
Climate Action Tracker calculate that the average global temperature will, based on the commitments made, rise to 2.4C by 2050. This temperature will make life in many parts of the Earth impossible. One may gasp at the apparent irrationality of pursuing a course that leads to this outcome. Surely the kingpins of the political and economic world would not condemn humanity and other life forms to such a fate. It is not, however, irrational if you can’t imagine an economic model different from the present one and it is not irrational if you frankly don’t care about the fate of others.
This should not cause us to despair. In fact the outcome of COP26 could be considered a revelation. This is that the fate of the biosphere, eco and economic justice, rests in the hands of each of us. We can, through our behaviour, help change the direction we are travelling in. Recognising that we are responsible for the wellbeing of each other, future generations and other life-forms is the long stride we all need to take towards healing our bio-world. As with passengers in a small boat we all have a part to play in keeping it afloat.
Larry Speight was present in Glasgow for some of COP26 and a set of phpts taken by him there can be seen at https://www.flickr.com/photos/innateireland/albums/72177720295343615/with/51752169792/
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