Leaders confess climate sins at COP26

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GLASGOW – National leaders came to the Scottish Event Campus this week to take part in an annual penitential rite – apologized for historical bad behavior regarding the climate and promised to finally get clean, but not yet.

On the two opening days of the two-week UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow, 115 heads of state and government took the summit pulpit – many to say how they want to atone for their CO2 sins while countries affected by the effects of climate change called for it Penance in the form of greater financial flows and greater emissions cuts.

“Why should they suffer this immediate impact, loss and damage because [of] -Emissions that we started producing in our country 250 years ago? “Asked British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

But despite the regular observance, UN chief António Guterres said it was an “illusion” that commitments made are sufficient.

“When will leaders lead?” asked Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. “Can we … find within ourselves the determination to get Glasgow back on track, or do we leave today believing it was a failure before it started?”

But the leaders’ often boring speeches are less about leading than about following. The global climate system does not impose sanctions for missing emissions targets or promises not to do enough to keep warming in check, but relies on moral conviction – the shame of leaders in front of their peers when their countries are seen as laggards . The idea is that presidents and prime ministers keep coming back to such events, each time pressing for greater commitments.

“We have to repeat and repeat. It’s just terribly boring, terribly long, but absolutely necessary, ”said Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat and one of the architects of modern climate policy.

The goal, Tubiana said, is to develop a sense of unstoppable progress, “the expectation that this will happen is just inevitable … you will stay on the side of the world economy.”

That explains why some of the most powerful men and women in the world took to the stage in Glasgow, even though many had nothing decisive to offer.

US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Johnson and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen all made speeches that made no serious progress on commitments that Guterres described as “grossly inadequate”. Only the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested the meeting briefly with the promise to reach net zero by 2070 with quick measures in the 2020s.

Even with banal speeches, the leaders “kept the Paris prophecy alive,” said Stefan Aykut, professor of sociology at the University of Hamburg. He coined a term for this type of diplomacy – “Summoning Government” – with the idea that rituals reinforce certain behaviors or change the perception of reality.

Efforts to avert catastrophic climate change are based on “a belief in magic … almost like hypnosis,” he said. This is “a social practice that is used in many social contexts and traditional societies,” but also in the business world.

keep your fingers crossed

The idea is that by saying the words you start to believe.

Concrete action is being taken in Glasgow. Over 100 countries have pledged to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030, a crucial step in tackling climate change but one that also requires some suspension of disbelief as the pledge includes Brazil where Deforestation has reached its peak since 2012 under the rule of President Jair Bolsanaro.

A second promise, also valid in more than 100 countries, aims to reduce global methane emissions – the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide – by 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. Again, that promise encompasses huge amounts of oil and gas producers like Nigeria and Gulf Petro States that would have to make painful and unlikely policy changes to make it happen.

But there is a view that even if some of the promises are not as believable, at least there is movement. Tubiana said a promise made by Saudi Arabia last month to net zero by 2060 was “insane” and she felt “this is something for her” when negotiating with the Saudis in Paris in 2015 that never has to happen ”. . ”But she said they felt“ compelled ”to take action because of the ritual.

These efforts have been reinforced by personal confrontations between the sinners and those whom they have wronged.

At a meeting on Monday, organized by the UK hosts and chaired by Johnson, sat a group of leaders from the biggest polluting nations, including Biden, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the smallest and most vulnerable nations sat down together and asked to give two-minute speeches about their fears of the climate catastrophe. It was specially designed for polluters “to be uncomfortable,” said a British official.

Surangel Whipps Jr., the president of the Pacific island nation of Palau, spent five days traveling through pandemic-ridden international airports to reach Glasgow and beg for his land.

“In a cruel and never-ending cycle of interdependence, we seek partnerships with the very nations whose emissions threaten our very existence in order to survive the devastation for which they are responsible,” he said.

Biden apologized for the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement under his predecessor Donald Trump, saying the people of his country and his home state of Delaware have been stubborn about climate change.

“Well, they have, as they say in southern parts of my state, seen the Lord,” said Biden, “and now they are finally, finally, finally realizing the sense of urgency that you all are.”

No church service experience would be complete without the collector’s plate.

Rich countries have long promised poor countries that they will pay for the original sin of their early industrialization that brought climate change to the world by providing money to help poor countries develop on less fossil fuels. The goal is to provide $ 100 billion annually for climate finance – a goal that rich countries fail to achieve and that poor countries want to increase drastically.

Biden has drawn a lot of warmth from both developed and developing countries for the extent of US support to poor countries. The US gives much less compared to the size of its economy, but that failure is collective and Tubiana said it was the single most dangerous problem in the Glasgow talks.

“It could kill anything,” she said.

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