The “words on a page” that delegates took away from last year’s COP 26 climate summit will “wither on the vine” if the countries that made the promises don’t translate them into urgent action, COP 26 President Alok Sharma warned last week.
“There is no doubt that the commitments we secured at COP 26 were historic. Yet at the moment they are just words on a page,” Sharma told an event hosted by the UK’s Chatham House international affairs think tank.
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“Unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine,” he added. “We will have mitigated no risks. Seized no opportunities. We will have fractured the trust built between nations. And 1.5° will slip from our grasp.”
Through the remainder of his term as COP President, Sharma must “ensure that developed countries meet their promise to deliver $100 billion a year to help poor countries adapt to the planet heating,” The Independent writes. “But Boris Johnson’s government has also faced criticism that it has made climate promises without the policies to deliver the carbon cuts necessary,” with Grantham Research Institute Policy Director Bob Ward calling on Britain to commit to stronger climate action this year.
“Although the UK already has one of the strongest pledges for 2030, it will be difficult to persuade other countries to go further without offering to do more itself,” he said. “The UK Presidency of COP 26 needs to put pressure on all countries, particularly laggards like Australia, to increase their planned emissions cuts.”
Sharma, last seen fighting back tears at the COP 26 closing plenary after a move by India and China to water down the final conference declaration, spoke just days before the United States hosted a virtual meeting aimed at getting the world’s biggest carbon polluters on track.
“One thing is clear: We all must move faster in this decade to accelerate the transition from coal to renewables,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry said in a statement, at the end of a virtual meeting that included China, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. The New York Times notes that global coal consumption increased 9% between 2020 and 2021, and 300 gigawatts of new coal capacity are now under construction or on the drawing boards.
“We’re in trouble. I hope everyone can understand that,” Kerry told a U.S. Chamber of Commerce event last week. “Not trouble we can’t get out of. But we’re not on a good track.”
On the sidelines of the big polluters’ meeting, The Associated Press pointed to one hopeful sign. “Russia was among two dozen nations and European and UN organizations taking part in Thursday’s virtual climate session,” the news agency noted. “That’s despite heightened tensions among many of those same countries over a Russian troop buildup near the border with Ukraine, and reciprocal steps by the United States and European allies.”
Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman suggested that had to do with a line in a recent marathon news conference by President Joe Biden that was largely overlooked by U.S. media—his reference to “a burning tundra that will not freeze again naturally” that should worry Russian President Vladimir Putin more than his adventures in Ukraine.
“I’m pretty sure this was the first time a U.S. president ever tried to persuade a Russian leader to get out of his neighbour’s front yard and focus instead on saving his own backyard,” Friedman wrote. “Because as Siberia is affected by climate change, it will threaten Russia’s stability a lot more than anything that happens in Ukraine.”