Politics Explained

What if Cop26 doesn’t meet expectations?

The absence of President Xi of China (the world’s most polluting nation) and of President Putin (Russia is still a superpower in hydrocarbon resources) will fatally damage the prospects of a binding agreement, writes Sean O’Grady

Thursday 21 October 2021 21:33
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<p>Boris Johnson has belatedly taken to saying that the negotiations will be ‘extremely tough’ </p>

Boris Johnson has belatedly taken to saying that the negotiations will be ‘extremely tough’

Will the Cop be a flop? There are certainly some official collywobbles about the prospects for the 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change (signed in 2016). Cop26 will assemble in Glasgow on 31 October and run until 12 November, and the bickering within government about it has already begun – never a good sign and one that suggests that the outcomes from the conference of world leaders will not live up to overblown expectations. Specifically, the absence of President Xi of China (the world’s most polluting nation) and of President Putin (Russia is still a superpower in hydrocarbon resources) will fatally damage the prospects of a binding agreement to keep greenhouse gas emissions to (relatively) safe levels. The presence of such key personalities as Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, the Queen (assuming she’s well enough), Nicola Sturgeon, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Joe Biden, Scott Morrison and Narendra Modi will help maintain the prestige of the gathering and means that probably something will emerge from the meetings and speeches (because “sherpas” will have prepared the necessary ground), but without China’s leader “in the room” it is a case of Hamlet without the prince.

The fear voiced by some connected to Cop26 is twofold, therefore. First, that this grand and much-hyped meeting will fail to deliver a radical and clear enough commitment from the major industrial powers, with the obvious dire consequences for the future of life on Earth. Second, are the “optics” of “Global Britain” failing to provide useful leadership when given the opportunity to chair and steer such an important, indeed transcendent, project. The flaws inherent in the UK’s own recently published climate change strategy paper (including a mysterious and rapid withdrawal of a section on eating less meat) have also compromised Boris Johnson’s claim to be “world king” of the environment. Post-Brexit Britain is supposed to be emerging from its EU cocoon like a gorgeous bright butterfly, attracting the delight and inspiring the hope of all around; instead it’s been swatted and squashed by the old men of Beijing. Would Cop26 be more successful and better attended if it was being hosted by the UK with all the economic and diplomatic heft of the EU behind it? It’s an awkward thought.

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