It’s an unfair COP26 (31st Oct 2021)

Dhaka Tribune

Before the pandemic hit hard in January last year, police estimated over 90,000 observers, companies, NGOs, and media would visit Glasgow during the two weeks of the COP26 UN climate change conference.

While estimates are now smaller, they still run in the tens of thousands wanting to watch, nudge, and lobby the official delegations, even if you discount the many others that may also attend for a demonstration/march during the event. As many world leaders and ministers will be present during the latter part of COP26 after bureaucrats and experts have conducted negotiations, it is simple to see how police early on estimated costs of “several hundred million pounds” for this event. 

Even if this turns out to be an overestimate, it’s a safe bet business lobbies will be spending cash to far more than this order of magnitude in relation to this conference. Amounts which dwarf whatever DC/Warner Bros paid recently to transform some of Glasgow’s more gothic streets into Gotham City for forthcoming features The Batman and The Flash.

For once, even Hollywood blockbuster budgets are no match for something truly important.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed at the Rio Earth summit in 1992, set out the risks of climate chaos and made it an objective to stabilize global greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system,” while supporting sustainable development across the world.

Crucially, it also directed wealthier nations which industrialized earlier and are responsible for most historical emissions to pay new funds towards climate change activities in developing countries.

Nearly 30 years later, for all the valuable work done at the 25 previous summits, it is clear not enough has been accomplished to match the true urgency of the situation. The 2009 Copenhagen summit saw rich nations first pledge to channel $100 billion a year towards developing countries by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature, a target reinforced by the December 2015 Paris Agreement.

Yet the $100 billion target remains conspicuously unmet to this day, despite the “landmark” Paris Agreement (COP21) also committing the world to five-year cycles of “increasingly ambitious” climate action six years ago. This is not just grossly inadequate, it is insanity.

At Rio in 1992, it was already well known that even as population growth rates are beginning to plateau the world over, that for a host of thoroughly welcome positive reasons (better health care, nutrition, and life expectancy) the world’s population would continue to grow for decades even as family sizes reduce. 

Much as projected, there are around 2 and a half billion more people alive today than there were in 1992, an increase equal to about the world’s total population in 1950.

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The urgent need to keep climate change to a minimum was always obvious; especially so in the first half of this century while humanity’s numbers are projected to increase before eventually stabilizing.

The unfairness of climate change was also always obvious; indeed, the UNFCC treaty expressly acknowledged the duty which those wealthier industrialized nations most historically responsible for global warming owe to the poorer, most probably more vulnerable majority world.

The hostility of the many powerful companies, politicians, and institutions that have subverted or lobbied against a sane approach to climate change has also been similarly apparent. As recently as just this July, the chief executive of ExxonMobil had to issue a public apology after secret filming of one of its senior lobbyists was broadcast on Channel 4 News in London exposing the tactics the company used to dilute recent US climate legislation.

The tools to bring about a sustainable future for humanity, such as cleaner energy production and less waste have also long been obvious. In view of the hurdles of cost and inertia that need to be jumped, it has also always been obvious that a genuinely green transition of the world economy could take many decades to fully implement.

The challenge — appreciated fully at Rio 1992 and earlier — has always been to make sure the required changes are delivered before global temperature increases spin out of control bringing devastating consequences for all of humanity, rich and poor alike.

Anything less than achieving this goal is potentially catastrophic. Not to life on Earth itself, but to human civilization. Throughout history, civilizations have risen and fallen as they have run out of resources, been replaced, or destroyed. But humanity is today uniquely global, interconnected, and fully interdependent. It is an existential risk of a global civilizational collapse, through running out of food and resources, which is posed by the threat of climate chaos. Though more powerful than ever, humanity is also more vulnerable than before to a domino effect; if there is ever one civilization humanity cannot afford to take risks with it is today’s global village.

However far from meeting the Paris Agreement’s target of stabilizing temperature rise at below 1.5C, scientists are presently projecting 2.7C for this century. Many politicians making loud promises on climate action fail to deliver or like Boris Johnson prefer headlining grabbing boondoggles to proven cost-effective strategies, often with a view to making richer voters feel greener about their consumption, but not much else. And sadly, rich countries are still miserly lagging on old, (forget the new) financial promises.

I think I would feel better if the caped crusader was not a fictional character, but really in Glasgow this month to help knock more heads together. And fully paid his taxes, of course.

For without something drastic, precedent is poor for expecting deeds to match words from COP summits. I hope for better, as we all should. Without hope only deadly dystopia awaits.