The World, or at least 25,000 of us, are descending on Glasgow in two weeks for COP-26 Climate Conference. An event whose success is being determined by attendance, or not, of powerful heads of state. Notably, China’s Xi Jinping will not be coming despite his nation owning the title of World’s Biggest Polluter. Russia and Saudi Arabia’s leaders have also voiced they may not be joining. Without the reinvigorated commitment of some of the world’s biggest economies, it is feared the talks will be yet another missed opportunity, amounting to little but more hot air, as the other participants are left wanting for these global authorities to lead the way.
Just as before, COP26 will lack impact because the targets aren’t legally-binding. Without enforcement, it will be an impassioned public sponsored jolly bringing a temporary boost to the local economy.
Polluters have deftly spread misinformation to shape public opinion toward fossil fuels, leading to widespread apathy and meaning that even now, denial exists. They shifted the blame to governments that understand pursuing unpopular or ‘radical’ issues would be political suicide.
Why isn’t China’s Premier attending?
For decades, China didn’t want to sacrifice its economic development for the environment. After all, the West developed and polluted as much as it liked; so why couldn’t they? Things changed, as water scarcity, desertification, smog and acid rain issues were nationally exposed by Chai Jing’s documentary ‘Under the Dome’, putting climate squarely on the agenda.
Setbacks have taken the form of competition with their rival, America, as the quest for global hegemony that had created deep-set tensions was exacerbated by Donald Trump. Joe Biden and John Kerry, his climate adviser, have been trying hard to patch the relationship since.
Why does it matter whether China comes?
We must work together or see our efforts negated by China’s impact. Their Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) alone will drive temperature increases of 2.7°C, significantly exceeding Paris 2015’s 1.5C maximum. We are decommissioning coal-fired plants while they finance and build hundreds globally in poorer nations, on-top of their 1,058 operational plants at home.
Xi knows we will see a 1-metre sea-level rise by 2100, leaving 43 million Chinese living on submerged land, and disastrous for the 6-billion who will have migrated from desertification to our coastal cities by then. The feedback loop of the current 1.25C Global warming has had a 3.5C heating on the Arctic region, risking disrupting global systems that we don’t really know which outcome we face.
Expedience or Guilt
The UK, Europe and USA are suffering natural gas shortages currently. When even the richest nations lack energy security so must revert to coal, it doesn’t bode well for the poorer nations’ contributions to sustainability. It may seem that centralised regimes like USSR and today, CCP, have little regard for the environment, with Western democracies having led the way. Australian PM, Scott Morrison, was reluctant to attend COP26 and have to make pledges that would harm his fossil-fuel dependent economy while China leads the way in nuclear energy – 17 are under construction.
25,000 attendees for a climate conference rather smack in the face of sending a good message to everyday folk trying their best to recycle, drive electricity and limit their environmental impact. Even the Queen and Prince William weighed in, demanding, ‘less talk, more doing’.
Regardless, the problem is Global and Glasgow will be a positive platform for voices to be heard, instead of muted screens across different time zones. Paris secured commitments from even China after the shared, lived experience of Climate Change (i.e. Pacific Islanders).
In the economic malaise, Coronavirus has left, many countries are yet to submit proposals, with less affluent nations needing yet more time to adapt. Global diplomacy is unhelpful for negotiations, with leaders committing last minute to attend these conferences to pressure other nations to concede more at their own expense.
The environmental impact of fossil fuels has been known 50 years since the 1972 Report of the Club of Rome and Shell and Exxon studies in the 1980s which were kept under wraps, where they just wanted to know if they needed to build oil rigs higher with rising sea levels.
The UK is pinning its hopes on renewable energy, electric vehicles and projects like Drax bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), but without the bigger players like China stepping up, just leading the way isn’t enough against the impact of an emerging imperial power.
We don’t have time for the majority to wake up. We aren’t going to deglobalize or degrowth our way to lower emissions without being faced with imminent catastrophe. Without getting bogged down in whether money as an abstract concept is a good social motivator for people behind desks that never see the real-world impact of this boundless greed; or whether degrowth by lower populations removes the youthful vibrancy crucial to innovation that will solve our challenges with creative solutions. Another human isn’t just another mouth to feed, but another set of hands and a brain to think. Our leaders would do well to invest their efforts in brilliant young minds that may just be our salvation.