COP26 is a Political Failure: Quelle Surprise

On the heels of the COP26 summit, John Vidal writes in the Guardian that It could have been worse, but our leaders failed us at Cop26. That’s the truth of it. While I don’t disagree that COP26 was a bit of a dud, I disagree with almost everything else Vidal has to say.

Where now? Governments have agreed a weak climate deal which gets us a smidgen closer to holding temperatures to a rise of 1.5C. But as regards all the most important pledges to phase out coal, reduce subsidies and protect forests, Glasgow failed.

A bunch of politicians met. What did you expect?

The fossil fuel lobby, led by India, held its line, dramatically succeeding in watering down – at the last minute and without due, transparent process – the move to ‘phase out’ coal power, pledging instead to ‘phase down’. The poor came away with next to nothing, there was little urgency and we are still heading for catastrophe. Any chance of halving fast-rising emissions by 2030 – the declared aim of the talks – is now negligible.

India relies heavily on coal for its electricity, as does China. Not surprising that they should balk at agreeing to immediately phasing out coal.

The UN climate process must be reformed to become more nimble. It is slow and measured and requires consensus and compromise. This is usually admirable, but it works against the scale and speed of action needed in a global emergency like this when millions of lives are at stake and every year of inaction counts.

Government is not nimble. Intergovernmental agreements are useless without consensus, and impossible without compromise. Governments have no ability to solve problems; they can only clear the way. Even enacting policies to accelerate change will have limited impact.

Soon we may have to accept that even when faced with flood, fire and famine, some countries will never act in the wider interest and will hinder the progress of others.

How is any country hindering any other from making progress?

So, short of locking leaders in a room and not letting them out until they have agreed something better, the only way 1.5C can be achieved must now be for those countries who want progress to work outside the UN process. That China and the US will meet next week is possibly the most positive development of the meeting.

If you locked them in a room, they still wouldn’t be able to find their asses with both hands, far less achieve 1.5C. Countries should work outside the UN process.

Leaders may not agree, but they can force the changes they could not make in Glasgow. Because most climate actions devolve to lower tiers of government, mayors, local authorities, counties and states can be enabled to slash transport and building emissions and help households.

If the government wants to slash transport, they’d better start building more public transit. People need to work, and we need our goods transported. Carbon taxes don’t change this. They are a wealth transfer to corporations, who then kick back money to their political cronies. Government subsidies that make retrofitting homes more affordable might help, but they won’t help people who can’t afford any retrofit, nor will they help those who are renting.

Most are well able and willing to take the initiatives that prime ministers and presidents resist. Glasgow will have helped give them the confidence and legitimacy to propose new ideas, and to act together. All it needs is backing and money.

Premiers and governors must borrow, raise income taxes, or cut other programs to be able to take such initiatives. None of these things will be popular. Mayors will have to make the same hard choices. Given the history of government waste, I’m against most new government programs that spend my money.

Equally, governments can take the gloves off, treat the few countries who are preventing climate action as criminals and reward those who do with trade deals, contracts, investments and aid.

Why not impose tariffs on heavy emitters? Revenues could be used to reduce taxes on our own businesses, and we could stop punishing our own citizens with carbon taxes.

Other strands of possible future action became apparent in the Glasgow halls. One was for an emergency Marshall-style “plan for the planet” to catapult ambitious countries into a sustainable future.

Sounds like a great way for politicians to waste more money and reward their friends.

If trillions of dollars can be found to sort out the banking crisis or the Covid pandemic in a few weeks, then it can surely be found to help countries transition into a low carbon world, starting with the $100bn (£75bn) a year that rich countries offered the climate vulnerable in 2009.

The banking crisis is a bad example. The bail out of the “too big to fail” banks was a huge theft from the people. Banks involved in risky derivatives should have been allowed to fail. Comparing the pandemic to climate change is like comparing cancer to a leaky roof. If my child is dying, I’m going to pull out all the stops. On the other hand, if my roof leaks, I may patch it, or possibly throw a tarp over it until I can save the money to have it fixed or replaced.

The shameful refusal of the rich to keep their promise to the world’s poor poisoned climate negotiations for a decade and may go down in history as one of the biggest diplomatic blunders of the age.

It’s shameful that the rich are making promises to spend their citizens’ wealth to support the citizens of other countries when we have problems at home that haven’t been dealt with.

Besides, it is pointed out, there is no shortage of money for action. There are now more than 2,700 billionaires, 600 more than one year ago. They, too, can be cajoled, bullied and taxed to make them act in everyone’s interests and commit to restore damaged nature.

If people are able to take advantage of the system to become billionaires, the system should be fixed. If people become billionaires fairly, due to their merits, what right does the government have to steal from them? Unlike the rest of us, who governments can bully without fear, billionaires will push back, or leave.

And finally, the World Health Organization must declare an immediate health emergency, making the link between the pandemic and the climate crisis, and explaining to politicians that climate change really is a life or death issue and will soon become the greatest challenge to human health that the world has ever known.

And in doing so, it would lose what credibility it has left after it’s botched handling of the pandemic. Covid and global warming are not linked. The WHO has no credibility when it comes to the climate.

World leaders failed us again in Glasgow, but the summit showed that countries with the vision to act in the interests of all will shape the future and benefit the most.

Countries in cold climates will benefit the most. Countries in desert areas and low lying island countries will benefit the least. The vision of politicians is worth little. Fortunately, it looks as though electric vehicles will give us the benefits of lower total cost of ownership, which will all but guarantee that they become the dominant form of transport in the future, though they aren’t there yet. If fusion becomes viable, large scale electrolysis to produce hydrogen could make it nonpolluting replacement for natural gas and diesel.

About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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