Is the UN climate conference, COP 26, on course to end in triumph or disaster later this week? Finding answers that will please everyone won’t be easy.
“Keep it in the ground” (“it” being the coal, oil, and gas chiefly responsible for overheating the planet) is the remedy often suggested for tackling the climate crisis: so long as it stays underground, it won’t do too much harm.
Well, up to a point. But it’s a slow process. Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda and current chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), had an arresting start to his opening statement to the COP, which showed some of his frustration.
“Excellencies and colleagues,” he began. “It is through gritted teeth that I say it is a pleasure to be with you here today. We are here to deliver on commitments made, but we are closing out 2021 with ambition that puts us on a pathway to overshooting the 1.5°C goal.
“When developed countries renege on their finance commitments, it has knock-on effects on climate. If sea level rise does not get us first, we will surely drown in debt.”
The Climate Vulnerable Forum, an international grouping of countries most threatened by climate change, has 55 members in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Pacific and represents about 1.2 billion people worldwide. They’ve decided to seize the initiative and spell out exactly what they want from COP 26: a climate emergency pact, its provisions listed in their Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration. This, they say, is the measure of what for them will constitute success when the COP wraps up at the end of this week.
Specifically, they want high-emitting countries to keep the 1.5°C goal within reach through a process of annually raising the target for climate ambition at each COP, and a rapid acceleration of the five-yearly rises in force now. They are also arguing for what’s being called a delivery plan: US$100 billion to be provided by developed states as climate finance.
So far, so good—and what both groups want, if not the exact way they express their frustrations, is pretty well mainstream thinking among those who argue for stringent action to start to try to rein in the climate crisis. But remember what’s called “the fair shares approach”, which seeks to evaluate the level of effort of a government’s target or policies against what could be considered a “fair share” contribution to the global effort in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
EcoEquity Executive Director Tom Athanasiou sums up the problem he and his colleagues see ahead.
“It’s a big one,” he writes, “that huge numbers of people—and economies around the world—are currently dependent on fossil energy, to the point where very rapid reductions in fossil-related revenues would trigger economic crises of the first order, and, inevitably, bitter waves of poisonous political blowback.”
For his admittedly big problem, Athanasiou doesn’t offer solutions. Instead, he recommends further reading and something to support, which he labels the “all-important” Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Both worth a look in the coming week, perhaps—and Athanasiou even thoughtfully includes a link to a page for donations.