A divided global leadership cannot save the planet
I try to go hiking in the English countryside, usually around October every year, to enjoy the changing of nature’s colors in preparation for winter. This year, the trees kept their green leaves late, denying me the pleasure of seeing the red, orange and deep yellow of the falling leaves.
One cannot help but think that climate change is here, despite what the skeptics and global warming deniers continue to say, while ignoring the reality that our planet has been overloaded by human misbehavior. At the same time, world leaders continue to squabble at COP26 in Glasgow, just as they argued at 25 previous summits, pushing UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to say that we have reached “a code red for humanity.” Britain’s Prince Charles also repeated in Glasgow that, to save the world and avert disaster, we need to “declare war.” Instead, it seems that the world is ready to pass the buck.
A world leadership at odds is unlikely to help protect our planet. After nearly two weeks of the climate summit, I am more convinced than ever that opportunities will again be wasted, as world leaders continue to be reserved or reckless in their approach to turning pledges into policies and implementing the so-called green transition.
Several takes from COP26 justify this conclusion and paint a grim overall picture about the limits of this and forthcoming summits, while nation states put geopolitics and competition before the survival of the planet.
One obvious negative was the absence of key polluters, namely China — the world’s biggest polluter. Without its agreement, nothing decided in Glasgow will make much difference. Many of those present, like US President Joe Biden (his country is in the Top 5 polluters club), also failed to rise to the challenge and sign up to phase out the use of coal due to domestic electioneering calculations — to please one Democratic senator in coal-reliant West Virginia, for example.
As in every summit, there are two realities at COP26: One that is seen in press releases and one that relates to cold, hard facts.
We were told that “a 190-strong coalition has agreed to phase out coal power,” with UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng declaring “the end of coal is in sight.” But a closer look reveals that the official list contained only 77 new signatories, just 46 of which were countries. Of these, COP26 organizers said that 23 countries had issued new pledges to end their reliance on coal at the summit, including South Korea and Vietnam. But a list obtained by AFP revealed that 10 of these nations use no coal at all in their energy mix. One could easily conclude that national signatories to the coal reduction pledge account for only about 13 percent of global output.
To give mankind the chance of a better future, a lot more is needed.
We were also told that leaders responsible for 85 percent of the world’s forests had signed an “unprecedented” pledge to end deforestation by 2030. A closer look, however, shows that this pledge is similar to the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests, which was signed by 40 countries and 150 organizations and indigenous groups. Subsequent assessments of this declaration indicate that, of the 32 most-forested countries, only India had translated the pledge into concrete action. Meanwhile, the World Wide Fund for Nature revealed that a forested area larger than the size of France has been deforested since New York 2014.
Money matters when it comes to combating climate change. Rich countries had pledged to mobilize $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor nations cope with the effects of global warming and the transition to greener economies. This target was missed, much to the disappointment of developing nations, and it has now been promised that the funding will be in place by 2023.
Some people wonder if capitalism is the problem or the solution. To many, private sector businesses will go wherever there is a chance to make profit in the transition to a zero-carbon economy. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero plan was launched by former Bank of England Gov. Mark Carney and ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to provide private sector funds to finance the global shift to a carbon-neutral economy. The available funds, according to the initiative, could reach $130 trillion. Such figures, soothing as they might be, are rather difficult to harness for real climate change-busting projects spread evenly around the world. And such absurd figures apparently equal the annual global gross domestic product and is more than the estimated value of all companies trading around the world; ironically, most of these companies’ past and present practices have invested in and funded the fossil-fuel industries and other polluting sectors.
COP26, like many summits that preceded it and many more that will follow, is likely to end on a positive note. Any progress, in my mind, is a step forward, despite the huge shortfalls. But to give mankind the chance of a better future, a lot more is needed — and, ideally, by yesterday. 2030, 2050, 2060 and 2070 will remain mere numbers unless the world starts to act on its pledges and not just deliver endless meetings and empty talk.
And, to start making a difference, the planet might need a hybrid approach by all and for all. Investment, technological solutions, market and business adaptation, human behavioral change, an end to consumerism, curbing the corporate sector’s greed, a global power competition reset, leadership, governance, regulation, and accountability, among other issues, reflect some of the immensity of the problem. These are what people and governments are not doing enough of and need to do at lightning speed if we are to achieve the target of restricting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Otherwise, the planet might be staring its doomed future in the face.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.