Cop 26 – Hot Air or Cool Action?
By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News
Maybe I am overstating it, but I personally think COP26 may be the most important moment in human history to date. I believe at this moment, over the first 2 weeks in November 2021, the fate of the ecology of the planet is to be determined. Certainly for many species on the brink, definitely for how our children and grandchildren live their lives, and maybe even for the existence of humanity itself. No pressure.
But I don’t really expect any one big announcement from COP26. I don’t expect any specific major agreement to be ratified and I don’t expect any one single agreement to move the needle by itself. That said, I do not expect it to be a failure either. There is simply too much at stake.
On the contrary, while I don’t expect any single big agreement, I do expect success.
I think most people in the know would agree that COP21 in Paris was a success because it ratified an agreement amongst virtually all nations (192 countries out of 197 are Parties to the Paris Agreement) to reduce GHG emissions to a level that would limit climate heating to a 1.5-degree increase this century. At the time, the science was pretty clear – this number would spare us the worst of the consequences of unchecked emissions. The agreement stated that in order to meet this 1.5-degree limit, we would need to have net zero emissions by 2050 – globally.
Getting all nations to agree to a single agreement that would be ratified by all parties, was a huge achievement. It was an unprecedented success that some experts said could not be done and it set the stage for the events to follow, like the one this year. COP26 is the check-in. As per the agreement, 5 years after Paris, accounting of reductions and participation occurs (it has actually been six due to the pandemic). The actions that have been taken (or not taken) will be known and quantified. The countries that have met their targets will be celebrated, those that have not will be challenged.
One big outcome will be one of trust. At COP21 the wealthy, highly developed industrial countries, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere (the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and others) agreed to help the poorer countries in the South with climate adaptations. It makes sense – the North has disproportionately emitted the greenhouse gas emissions that are already primarily affecting Southern countries. The Northern countries solemnly agreed to pay $100 billion dollars per year starting in 2020 to help vulnerable countries adapt to the effects of our warming climate now, not some point in the future. According to everything I have read, this pledge was fairly hollow. There was no firm commitment as to who would pay what share and, as a result, the amount of money in reserve is now far short of the commitment – by about $12 Billion.
Now, some people would say that $100 billion a year is too much and certainly it is a lot of money. But $100 billion is just a drop in the bucket compared to the trillions and trillions of dollars it will cost to decarbonize to get to net-zero by 2050. Some groups are calling for more, that this annual number should really be in the trillions of dollars to be in proportion to the damage that has already occurred.
These payments are everything to the countries that need them. These are communities that are on the edge of losing everything. The ability to meet this commitment is an indicator, a canary in the coal mine so to speak of how much these smaller countries can really trust the big rich ones. So at COP26, how the rich countries and companies address this situation will be a success or failure moment.
So just at COP26, Canada and Germany announced a more detailed plan to ensure the payment plan gets revitalized. In 2022 the fund will be topped up and by 2023 the $100 million annual payment will be back on track. It is a nice sentiment but the fact remains that the number has not yet been achieved, 6 years after it was agreed upon.
All is not lost, however. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly put a damper on the global economy and this should be taken into account. Trade is rebounding and revenues will soon be back on track. The wealthy countries should be able to make these payments and spur some action forward; at least they will have no easy excuse. With luck, the German/Canadian plan will meet its goals and the lost trust can be regained.
So it appears as if COP26 is all about hundreds if not thousands of smaller, actionable commitments. The ones that show goodwill and prove the efforts are being made. I believe we have what we need to make this happen, and that common sense will prevail over politics. As climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate wrote in their open letter to the media at COP26, there just is no more time to wait. This is not a policy issue that can simply be pushed further out toward the next election cycle. It is not an accounting problem that can be financed over the next 30, 50, or 100 years. It is an immediate, existential threat that must be addressed now. It must be addressed in a meaningful way with big resources, and a multitude of small manageable commitments.
And if the actions of industry and banks are an indicator, the will is there. The Paris effect continues with a drive to net-zero pledges in most if not all corporations and countries and divestment of fossil fuel in banking and finance. Pledges to remove subsidies come from the highest levels of government, including US president Joe Biden’s budget that was announced earlier this year. The falling cost of action vs the increasing cost of inaction makes doing the right thing not only aspirational but also just good business. Climate is on everyone’s mind and the countries and businesses with strong climate action are the ones that will be in the position to be the leaders in the new green economy that is here, now, and growing for tomorrow.
I for one am cautiously optimistic, and while we may all be a bit jaded from past deceptions, I think it is safe to feel some hope for positive outcomes from Glasgow.