Even though the long-awaited COP26 (2021 UN Conference of the Parties) has now come to an end in Scotland, the world is still buzzing with anticipation and keenness on fulfilling its goals. Around 30,000 delegates including presidents, researchers, diplomats, policymakers, activists, campaigners, and policymakers descended for this critical climate change summit. COP26 was one of the largest international gatherings since the pandemic. The main agenda was to get all the countries committed to the more ambitious goals of achieving net-zero or becoming carbon neutral and collectively tackling climate change.
However, given the state of current politics and the ongoing pandemic, these climate goals seem unrealistic and at stake. Even the UK’s President Boris Johansen was only ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the climate change deal at Glasgow and warned that COP26 is at the risk of failure.
One of the main issues that stand in the way of COP26 success is the fact that multilateral organizations are defined by the dynamics of power, politics, and nationalism. The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the earth will likely reach at 1.5-degree Celsius temperature in the early 2030s. Rather than working on the solutions to avert this climate disaster, the world leaders are busy with lengthy talks and endless discussions.
Far more shocking is the fact that national leaders are not taking the climate threats seriously as China and Russia failed to lead at the COP26 summit despite being vulnerable to climate change in many of their regions. China is the largest carbon emitter having a 20 percent share of the world’s total CO2 emissions while Russia is the world’s fourth-largest source of these emissions. US President Joe Biden slammed China and announced his absence as a ‘big mistake’.
While the ‘over’-ambitious targets of reducing carbon emissions, going carbon neutral, and shifting to green economies sound sweeter than honey to the ears, these commitments and targets can be transformational in addressing climate change only if they can be achieved and implemented properly. However, the real problem in achieving these goals lies in the phrase, ‘if implemented’. Nothing in this world is permanent and governments can change in the blink of an eye, leaving these ambitious promises behind. In addition to it, there is no accountability for the developed world if they failed to fulfill the targets. Likewise, the shift to green economies depends upon the generous contributions of the US and others.
In 2009, we saw how the developed economies pledged to fund $100 billion annually to aid the climate transition in the global south. However, these proud economies that claim to be seriously committed to climate action failed to fulfill their promise. Moreover, they are now finding ways to influence and shape the behavior of developing countries. Most multilateral and western banks require these countries to stop financing coal which restricts possibilities for grid expansion in lower- and middle-income countries even though the power demand is incredibly high.
Advanced economies are also urging financial institutions including International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bind green conditions to debt relief for poor countries. It seems unfair to put the blame and restrictions on developing countries that are on their way to expanding their economies. These countries have a huge population, however, much lower emissions per person as compared to the global north. In this light, acknowledging the historical role of European countries and the United States in being primarily responsible for more collective emissions than other developing nations is pertinent.
It is high time that we recognize the need for a distinctive grand strategy focusing on supporting adaption in the global south. Any multilateral agreements on tackling climate change should be governed by international law rather than being based on the wills of individual nations. For this, we must ensure that any decision-making is made on scientific facts instead of political slogans.
Furthermore, the outcomes of COP26 will only be able to rally the parties to effective climate action if there is a mutual understanding of our current grave situation and the willingness to take action with accountability. Because, without it, COP26 would remain a ‘PR event’ as per the young activist Greta Thunberg. An event where all the big names came to show off. An event where empty promises were made. An event where tech companies showed their cool gadgets and carbon-reducing apps. An event where global leaders read prepared grand speeches about climate action and ended them on the note of committing to COP27.
Nevertheless, some positive developments were also seen during the end of COP26. US and China have agreed to cooperate and China, for the first time, opted to phase out coal. Around 105 countries have vowed to cut methane emissions by 30 percent before 2030. A new draft agreement among 200 countries seeks to end carbon emissions by 2050.
Amid the dizzying blitz of pledges, it should be remembered that humanity cannot be saved by promises alone. COP26 suffers from a collective action problem and the pledges will remain hollow if there is no consensus among the countries on a common climate action denominator.
The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org