Many world leaders and activists expressed disappointment with the climate deal that emerged from two weeks of heated climate change negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland at the 26th COP. They warned that countries will have to strengthen their commitments if they want to avert disastrous consequences and help at-risk nations cope with the damage that is already the result of the climate crisis.
The new Climate Pact urges countries to “accelerate efforts towards phasing down” rather than “phasing out” coal-generated power that isn’t mitigated by carbon capture and storage. This subtle change to the wording surfaced at the end of COP26, the latest UN climate change conference, at the insistence of India and China. So, are these two countries to blame for the summit’s disappointing outcome, as many are suggesting?
Many defenders of U.S. climate policy blame China and India for being major contributors to the carbon emissions befouling our world. Per person, emissions in both China and India are still substantially lower than almost all developed countries. India’s per-person emissions are less than one-quarter of the global average, and roughly one-tenth of those in the U.S. Close to a quarter of all carbon emissions come from manufacturing products which are exported and consumed in other countries. Textiles and clothes exported from India and south Asia account for only 4% of global emissions.
Labelling India and China as the chief villains of COP26 is a convenient narrative. The financial aid which rich countries promised, yet failed to deliver as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, was supposed to help developing countries dump coal for cleaner sources of energy. “It is inexcusable that developed countries failed to meet their commitment to deliver $100 billion annually starting in 2020 even as they provide hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil fuels each year,” said Ani Dasgupta, President of the World Resources Institute.
And while the world berated India and China for weakening the Glasgow Climate Pact’s coal resolution, few questioned the fossil fuel projects being floated in developed nations, like the UK’s Cambo oilfield and the Line 3 oil pipeline between Canada and the U.S. For the record, the United States is the largest historical emitter of carbon emissions, while China has been the largest emitter in recent years.
Coming out of COP26, U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said “The United States and China have no shortage of differences, but on climate – on climate, cooperation is the only way to get this job done. This is not a discretionary thing, frankly. This is science. It’s math and physics that dictate the road that we have to travel.” We’ll see.
The rock bottom reality is that the intensifying climate crisis is a fundamental issue of justice and equity. The wealthiest 10% of the world’s population is responsible for 46% of the growth in greenhouse gas emissions. (see graph below). The poorest half of the world’s population is responsible for 6% of the total emissions’ growth.
Most wealthy countries have a much larger carbon footprint than can be seen by just by totaling up the amounts of energy they use within their boundaries, while ignoring the footprint generated when goods are manufactured elsewhere. This is referred to as a consumption-based accounting method. It’s a method that is inaccurate and unfair to the poor countries, many of which produce the things we want for a “more rewarding” life.
Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want, addressing the U.N. climate assembly, said that this consumption per capita is a flawed metric, as most polluting industries have been moved to developing nations and not reflective of the rich nations’ responsibility for carbon emissions.
Supporting Rehman’s claim is the fact that 42% of the manufactured goods that we “enjoy” in America come from China alone. That’s everything from electronic goods to parts for our cars as well as our clothes. To save on manufacturing costs, we have offshored virtually everything we want to other countries. This means we are also “offshoring” our CO2 emission responsibilities. So, when we’re looking at America’s total amount of emissions, we have to include the carbon footprint our lifestyles create.
Most of the people framing the climate debate in Glasgow are people who live in high-emitting countries – the climate scientists, business leaders, journalists, many lawyers and lobbyists, and fossil fuel industry representatives. They have the money and wherewithal to frame the debate in ways that continue business as usual. In ways that drown out the voices from small Pacific Island states and other third world countries. Equity has never been a core principle in the climate debate. The representatives from high-emitting countries are not interested in equity. Or they don’t want to “afford” it.
Negotiators for the Global South cited the historical responsibility of the Global North to pay for loss and damage for climate change, given the North’s historical emissions. Countries in the Global North, especially the U.S. and the EU, fear that loss and damage could open the door for liability and so are vehemently opposed.
Asad Rehman, speaking on behalf of the climate justice constituency, said, “It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying right now.”
The COP26 agreements intended to save the world from the worst of climate change impacts are built upon data. But the data the world is relying on is inaccurate. A new Washington Post investigation has found that across the world, many countries underreport their greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations. An examination of 196 country reports reveals a giant gap between what nations declare their emissions to be versus the greenhouse gases they are actually sending into the atmosphere. The gap ranges from at least 8.5 billion to as high as 13.3 billion tons a year of underreported emissions – more than enough to move the needle on how much the Earth will warm.
Once again, at a worldwide climate summit, the richest nations have ignored every moral and political call to stop the extraction industries from poisoning our environment. Their broken promises are now littered across 26 COPs. Empty press releases drafted by polluting companies no longer fool anyone. Of the almost 40,000 delegates at the U.N. summit in Glasgow, there were 497 delegates from Brazil, 230 from the U.K. and 165 from the U.S. The largest “delegation” was the 503 people associated with the fossil fuel industry and economy.
Four young women – Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate, Poland’s Dominika Lasota, and the Philippine’s Mitzi Tan – issued a worldwide emergency appeal via the internet to world leaders for “real” climate action at the COP26 on behalf of the 100,000 youth protesters in the streets of Glasgow.
It was inspiring to watch these activists – especially young people and those from the global south – as this Glasgow COP26 limped towards its mushy end. They were on top of every twist in the text, and they won significant concessions from the big polluting countries. The activists’ anger echoed through the halls and was heard in whatever parts of the world were listening. To the extent that this COP worked at all, it’s a tribute to their perseverance and creativity.
Greenpeace International director Jennifer Morgan, a long-time climate talks observer, said that the call in the draft to phase out coal and subsidies for fossil fuels would be a first in a U.N. climate deal, but the lack of a timeline would limit the pledge’s effectiveness. “This isn’t the plan to solve the climate emergency. This won’t give the kids on the [Glasgow] streets the confidence that they’ll need,” Morgan said.
Next year’s summit, COP27, is scheduled to convene in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Whether Egypt will permit this kind of street-based protests by young climate activists is doubtful. Egyptian authorities have consistently shown no hesitation in using a heavy hand to silence their own human rights protesters.
Contributing writer John Bos’s “Connecting the Dots” column appears every other Saturday in the Greenfield Recorder. Green Energy Times readers can request copies of his recent three-part series “Eco-Anxiety” at email@example.com. He is the editor of a new children’s book After the Race available on Amazon.