Cop26 is dead – long live (the reformed) Cop27.
Let us be clear – Cop26 utterly failed on the only issue that counts: cutting global carbon emissions. The latest IPCC report stated that we needed a 45 per cent cut in carbon emissions by 2030. UN analysis of the latest Cop26 pledges suggests that they will lead to a 16 per cent increase.
The reason Cop26 – just like every previous Cop – failed to stop emissions rising is that its institutional structures are incapable of delivering the actions necessary to save civilisation. Take for example the stark fact that Saudi Arabia has been able to veto the adoption of agreed voting procedures at every Cop since 1995. Thus every oil-producing or high-fossil-fuel-consuming state has the power of veto over every single word “agreed” at these summits.
Watching these failures unfold is like watching the Titanic catastrophe in real time. Human civilisation is the Titanic. The climate crisis is the iceberg we have now hit, despite all previous Cop summits supposedly seeking to avoid such a crash. The ship is now holed, and the poorest countries in the global south are literally having their third-class berths flooded and possessions destroyed.
These countries pleaded for years with the global north to stop burning fossil fuels at such a rate that the climate crisis would flood and destroy them. They then pleaded for funding to help protect them from the coming floods, droughts and storms. The industrialised nations promised $100bn per year from 2015, but failed to deliver. Forty per cent of the funds provided were not grants but loans, which require interest repayments, further damaging the ability of poor countries to protect themselves. They are now in vain pleading with the global north to help pay for the damage being caused as a result of past emissions.
Then we have the industrialising nations, including China, India and Brazil, with large populations, in the Titanic’s second-class cabins. These countries are demanding the right to burn vast amounts of fossil fuels in order to gain first-class cabin riches and a comfortable standard of living, something the first world has enjoyed for the past century. They are so obsessed with seeking first-class cabin status on the ship that their soaring fossil-fuel consumption is ramming that same ship even faster into the iceberg, which is sinking all of humanity, including their own populations.
And then, finally, we have the hypocritical arrogance of the industrialised north: the first-class occupants. They are insisting on the second world phasing out the coal-fired power stations that are fuelling its rapid increase in living standards, while the west continues to pour huge investment into new oil and gas fields around the world. They refuse to pay for the destruction and death their first-class luxury is imposing on the third-class occupants, though its effects will increasingly devastate their own populations.
Cop26 decisions, yet again, were littered with loopholes, postponing the rapid cuts required. Mark Carney’s GFANZ finance “agreement” allows the banks to invest in fossil fuels for another three decades.
The deforestation “agreement” allows deforestation to continue for another decade, even if signatories deliver on their pledges. Already Indonesia, which is a signatory, has declared that it will continue to prioritise “development” over protecting its forests.
When Cop26 defenders have to point out that the final “agreement” for the first time actually mentions fossil fuels, and that they have agreed to discuss “cuts” again next year, and that these are the “big wins” of the conference, you realise how flawed the whole process is.
So, what do we do now?
First, we need to reform the Cop process. Governments by themselves cannot create a zero-carbon economy without the agreement of the other three pillars of the fossil-fuel economy: banks, fossil-fuel corporations and media. The UK, as the current Cop president, needs to work with the incoming presidency, Egypt, and convene simultaneous Cop27 summits of the other three pillars to agree binding proposals to achieve net zero by 2030.
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Second, the climate movement needs to prioritise two targets. It must press the global corporate media leadership to use their immense political power to advocate for the urgent fair transition to a zero-carbon economy by 2030. And it must put pressure on the world’s banking system to implement the IEA ban on all new fossil-fuel investments. If Cop27 agreed that the $5 trillion investments planned for fossil-fuel expansion should be redirected instead into the energy transition, it would be a game-changer.
Finally, and tragically, we need a massive expansion in disruptive direct action. The global visceral anger from young people in response to Cop26’s betrayal needs to be channelled into waves of peaceful disruptive actions to force the pillars of power to take the necessary action.
With the Titanic ploughing at full speed into the iceberg, this is no time for hand-wringing. Action is what is needed, or the entire ship sinks, affecting all of us indiscriminately, whether our children are from the first, second or third-class cabins. The Canadian fires, the devastating floods in China and Germany and the droughts in Africa have shown that we are all now united in mortal danger.
Cop26 is dead. Long live (the reformed) Cop27– and mass global peaceful direct action.
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