Climate summits like Cop26 are a test of leaders’ mettle. As a former head of state and a UN climate envoy, I know the pressure they will be under in Glasgow, but also the power they have to make lasting, positive change at a time of crisis.
For the climate crisis is most definitely upon us, in every corner of the globe. We have even seen trains taking delegates and activists to Glasgow for the Cop26 climate summit being cancelled due to extreme heavy rain in the north of England.
All of this is proof that radical climate action is urgently needed, and that leaders must step up and face their responsibilities in Glasgow. Six years ago, real ambition and leadership was shown at Cop21 in Paris, but we remain dangerously off track from meeting those commitments to keep global temperatures to 1.5C.
The Glasgow summit should have taken place last year, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This postponement was understandable, but makes it even more important now for heads of state and ministers to act with real urgency.
We are standing on the precipice of a climate catastrophe. Unless Cop26 delivers a meaningful pathway to closing the emissions gap and seriously funding climate adaptation efforts, the consequences will make the pandemic feel like a mere blip.
Crucially, the world’s leading industrialised countries – including the United Kingdom as Cop president– need to repair the trust deficit that has been worsened by the lack of solidarity and vaccine inequity that has characterised the rich world’s response to Covid-19.
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Inaction and insularity in the face of the climate crisis risk wreaking even greater damage on our planet and the multilateral system.
Even at this late hour, there are still worrying signs that rich countries have not grasped the seriousness of what is at stake. The failure to honour the climate finance promise of $100bn made to developing countries made more than a decade ago bodes ill for the talks ahead. The Elders fully support the approach of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, who are calling for a package of $600bn by 2025 to make up for this missed target.
We need a change of mindset across the board in international politics, finance, business and civil society, one that enables us to “keep 1.5 alive”.
This is a matter of climate justice. Those who have contributed the least to global warming are suffering the direst consequences, while the rich polluters are still failing to take seriously their responsibilities at a political and financial level.
We have wasted too much time in the six years since Paris. The policies we need to cut emissions – including an end to fossil fuel extraction, production and subsidies; a meaningful carbon price; and investment in renewable energies – have been fitful, inconsistent and uncoordinated.
The big question leaders must reckon with in Glasgow is whether their national plans add up to what is needed – and if not, how they will close the remaining gap.
The difference between 1.5C and 2C of global heating is huge – it would mean 420 million more people exposed to extreme, potentially lethal heatwaves, and tens, if not hundreds of millions more people will be thrown into poverty.
As Cop26 host, the United Kingdom has a particular responsibility to lead by example and galvanise all delegations into radical ambition, but this demands consistency, coherence and credibility. Reports that the UK is classifying its allocation of Special Drawing Rights from the IMF as overseas aid, rather than using this money to increase its overall aid budget, have further damaged trust. Reversing this step would make a crucial difference to the political dynamics in Glasgow as negotiations get underway.
I hope that the UK’s leaders, and all others gathered in Glasgow in the weeks ahead, will not shirk this moment. They should heed the words of Nelson Mandela, the founder of The Elders: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Mary Robinson is a former president of Ireland and chair of The Elders, the group of independent global leaders founded by Nelson Mandela
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