From a superficial perspective, the developments at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow would appear triumphant and encouraging. In a show of change after the Trump administration’s lack of interest in climate talks and positive climate policies, most of Biden’s Cabinet was present in Glasgow. Over 100 world leaders have pledged to end deforestation by 2030. There was much serious talk about the need for “Net Zero” emissions, and even conservative world leaders, such as Boris Johnson, have given powerful speeches indicating they’ll be taking a serious approach to combatting climate change.
On the surface, it seems the world is finally ready to pose a united front against practices that have been negatively impacting the global climate. But looking at the COP26 summit through a critical eye shows there is more to be frustrated than encouraged about.
One month prior to COP26, the U.N. sponsored the Youth4Climate conference in Milan, Italy, where prominent young climate activists took the stage to speak about the dire threat that climate change currently poses to the planet. Among the speakers was well-known Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who criticized world leaders’ lack of substantiative climate action:
“Our leaders’ intentional lack of action is a betrayal towards all present and future generations. The people in power cannot claim that they are trying, because they are clearly not, as they continue opening up brand-new coal mines, oil fields and pipelines, pretending to have ambitious climate policies while granting new oil licenses, exploring enormous future oil fields and shamelessly congratulating themselves while still failing to come up with even the bare minimum and long overdue funding to help the most vulnerable countries deal with the impacts of the climate crisis. If this is what they consider to be climate action, then we don’t want it.”
Many activists noted that leaders have demonstrated similar climate-action fervor at previous climate summits, producing little tangible change. World governments made exactly the same pledge to end deforestation in 2014, but the rates of deforestation have since increased by 40%. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in remarks delivered on November 1, committed India to “net zero” emissions by 2070, two decades later than its previous target of 2050.
The current scientific consensus shows that the world needs halve emission by 2030 to achieve net zero before 2050 to avoid a completely irreversible climate catastrophe. As it currently stands, not enough is being done to meet these targets. In the last week of October 2021, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) released its Emissions Gap Report 2021, showing that the world’s current pledges made for 2030 would still result in a 2.7°C (4.8°F) rise in global temperatures by the end of the century. When considering the lack of tangible action thus far, questions of whether these countries will follow through in their pledges or continue to push back their deadlines — or worse, reverse direction altogether as Trump did with the Paris Agreement — must be taken into account.
The role that polluting corporations play in the decline toward climate disaster must also be at the forefront of the climate action discussion; the responsibility to effect major climate-related change is not on humanity as a whole, but rather a small sliver of humanity doing a large portion of damage. Inequaity.org recently published an extensive report that underlined how transnational corporations’ ability to sue governments over climate change policies “could undermine whatever agreements might be reached in Glasgow.”
World leaders have “gotten real” about climate change several times over the years, yet they’ve made no major positive changes. Meanwhile, the world continues to experience record-breaking heat waves, floods, droughts, and wildfires. In her Milan speech, Greta Thunberg addressed the lack of action by world leaders:
“Net zero by 25 — 2050, blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050, blah, blah, blah. Net zero, blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders: words — words that sound great but so far has led to no action. Our hopes and dreams drown in their empty words and promises.”
Image via AFP.