I’ve only vaguely looked in on Cop26, chiefly because it feels like a case of lather, rinse, repeat.
The news veers from bad to good and then back to bad, and right at the death, something emerges that elicits a great big “meh” from people who actually care about their children having a planet to live on and who know what they’re talking about. But deadlines, it seems, can always be broken when it comes to Earth.
Sure, there have been some bits and pieces that could, with a large dose of happy pills, be seen as grounds for something resembling optimism. The US and China agreeing to cooperate on reducing emissions was a surprise. They’re the world’s two biggest emitters, its two biggest economies, and they’re geopolitical rivals. So that’s nice.
But they’re still going to burn coal. They’re still going to fund new fossil fuel projects. And they still don’t seem to have worked out that the cost of inaction is far higher than that of action. So that’s not so nice.
We’re supposed to be ending deforestation by 2030 too. But I find myself asking why not end deforestation now? Seriously. Will there even be any forests left by 2030? Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit there. But there will be an awful lot of trees burned and cleared for cash in the interim.
What concerns me is the fact that the commitments made are only worthwhile if governments stick to them. Can we rely on them to do that, as political winds blow back and forth?
Even if the American-Chinese deal is worth something, it might not last. All it takes is for the White House to flip to a Trumpy “f*** the planet” Republican for the whole thing to fall flat on its face. And maybe Donald “I’m going to have another pissing contest with Chayna” Trump himself gets the nod. We’re in for it if he does.
My fear is that we may have to suffer through some catastrophic consequences to get the (mostly) old men who run the world to shake themselves out of their torpor and seek treatment for their addiction to hydrocarbon company cash. It might take a succession of really nasty eco shocks, the sort of things that make the California wildfires look like a British back garden on bonfire night.
The world’s less wealthy countries – the ones on the climate frontline that lack the resources to complete large-scale engineering or water management projects – stand to be hit hardest by the emissions of the richer ones. The plight of their citizens, sadly, only tends to get noticed when a celebrity hops over with a camera to make a tug-at-the-heartstrings broadcast.
But even though leaders of places like China and the US can fortify themselves, in the former with repression, the rich world won’t be immune. Those fires will be back. Perhaps the low countries – and maybe London too – will flood. The Netherlands’s efforts on this front have been quite remarkable – so good that even the rabid climate deniers and sceptics at Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News have been known to hail its efforts.
It helps that the country is super-rich. But even the sort of skills that would have a reincarnated King Canute saying “goodness me, this is how it’s done” will only get you so far when trying to stop the ice caps from melting.
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I do wonder how Europe will respond to a vast internal migration made up of mostly white people, as opposed to the brown people left stranded at the Polish border. Could Britain face something similar when London and the south get too soggy, and their populations try to move north? Look at the projections and the maps. It isn’t impossible, but I don’t imagine that it will go down too well.
There is still a chance that the eco-campaigners will save the wealthy’s pampered asses. The civilised guerrilla tactics of organisations like Follow This – which buys shares in oil companies with the aim of forcing change through shareholder resolutions – may be more effective than blocking roads in the middle of London. But I guess this is a case of whatever it takes.
The hard fact is that world leaders are failing. Cop26 has proved that. The world’s people, and especially its young people who’ll have to clean up the almighty mess, will simply have to keep piling pressure on. The climate scientists’ projections look horrible and our leaders’ limp response to them is dismal. But the worst thing we could do in the face of them is to succumb to despair.