COP26: Enough talking, time to step it up

COMMENTARY |

Flooding in India: COP26 is addressing itself the adverse effects of global warming by pushing for cuts on carbon emissions.

It has been almost three decades since the climate change agenda was propelled to the global stage through the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

At the start of it all, it was pretty simple on paper - initiate action to mitigate what was then a nascent threat to humanity.

While the challenge has since evolved into a more potent threat with the potential for global chaos, mitigating action has sadly remained a mirage with timelines set being far into the long distance.

For the 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) which began at the end of October, the order of business remained the setting of even more targets even as some goal posts were shifted to stay in line with past projections.

New vigour?

On October 31st, over 25,000 delegates from almost 200 countries trooped to Glasgow, Scotland, for the COP26 which has taken centre stage in both international news coverage and commentary.

The conference has been seen as the opportunity to panel-beat previous climate change mitigation action while rejuvenating public discourse on what has been previously termed as the next pandemic.

World leaders and policymakers have led the desired discourse as they seek to get back the climate mitigation train back on track.

At the opening of COP26, leaders including US President Joe Biden, UK’s Premier Boris Johnson, our very own President Uhuru Kenyatta and Malawi’s Lazarus Chikwera rallied the world to take action ‘now’ to contain the imminent threat.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stern warning asking humanity to stop treating nature as a toilet while Biden said none of us can escape the worst if we fail to seize the moment.

On his part, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said COP26 must be the start of a new momentum to make a quantum leap in the fight against climate change while naturalist David Attenborough said the civility we all depend on risks breaking.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley with her outstanding oratory skills gave an even grimmer picture asking those with eyes to see and for those with ears to hear.

Overall, the leaders created and reinforced interest in the climate change discourse with the topic gripping major news coverage at the start of November across social media, print and on TV.

New targets

Despite facing a deficit on previous goals, countries are still setting new targets to prop up mitigation action.

For instance, rich countries have backed the creation of the Climate Investment Funds (CIF)- a new capital market mechanism geared at attracting climate change funding to climate change at the rate of $500m dollars per year.

At the same time, over 100 countries have committed to ending deforestation, pooling together 12 billion dollars with a further 7.2 billion dollars in expected disbursements from the private sector.

Meanwhile, the majority of countries at the conference have also signed up to the Global Methane Pledge which seeks to cut the emissions of the second biggest pollutant after carbon dioxide by 30 per cent by 2030.

Individually, countries have renewed their own mitigation targets including shifting timelines for net-zero emission dates.

Moreover, developed countries are moving to end financing for fossil fuel projects in foreign countries from 2022.

Empty talk?

Critics of COP26, mostly climate activists, have however called out the leaders for creating ‘happy headlines’ even as they conceal loopholes and backslide from previous promises.

Former Governor of the Bank of England and now the CEO of the Environment Justice Foundation Steve Trent for instance says net-zero pledges mean nothing without fossil fuels divestment.

Across the first week of the conference, activists have been staging protests outside the summit’s stage calling for leaders to take more action to contain the crisis of today.

Scepticism and what is seemingly paranoia are however grounded on past failures by the very countries and world leaders.

Lethargic

For starters, COP 26 was preceded by the G20 Summit in Rome which painfully took climate change for granted with little to no commitments made.

For instance, the club of the top developed economies promised meaningful and effective action- vague put simply.

This has left a heavy load of work to delegates at COP26 who will be expected to hammer out specific targets to take on climate change.

Two key countries, Russia and China, the default biggest polluter have been a no show at both the G20 and COP26 summits.

Meanwhile, India has pushed back its goal for net-zero emissions to 2060 just like so many other countries.

For critics, this action is the mere kicking of the can down the road as they now fear keeping the global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Curiously, India alongside China and India who together contribute to about one-third of global methane emissions passed the opportunity to sign on to the global methane pledge.

During COP15 in 2009, countries agreed to sink in $100 billion yearly as climate financing by 2020. Sadly, this has not been the case.

According to a recent report from UNEP, this funding is not adequate while the target will only fall in line two years from now.

With stalled action from years gone by, activists are worried new targets are just but big statements with little if any details underneath.

Crunch time

Quoting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, we are on the last minute to midnight on the disaster clock making mitigation action on climate change critical, to say the least.

In an African context, the continent has taken the most beating from a problem it barely causes.

For instance, the recent drought in Madagascar has become the first crisis to be tied directly to climate change and global warming.

At the same time, Kenya has been named among the top countries facing the most devastation from climate change.

Developed countries must do more to repair the damage they mostly cause including directly funding the switch to clean energy in the developing world.

Some climate change activists have also argued that the countries must be forced to support communities affected by climate change back to their feet.

Already, the US, Britain, France and Germany are funding South Africa’s transition from coal to the tune of 8.5 billion dollars

The future of improving our climate and environment is in all our hands. We must work together, the leaders, public, private sectors and the youth to create, structured partnerships and programs that will achieve global results.

Chris Diaz -Conservationist and business leader

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