TThe most important UN talks on climate change since the 2015 Paris Agreement are ready, with over 120 world leaders coming to Glasgow for Cop26. The question now is, in the midst of all the great talk, will it make a difference?
Given that Cop1 was held in 1995 and carbon dioxide emissions are now 14 billion tonnes higher than then, we can be forgiven for thinking that Cop26 is a scam. But this time it’s different, because it’s a battle not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also by the rules of a new phase of capitalism that will affect us all.
Governments are facing extreme pressure to act now. Climate impacts are affecting home. The climate crisis is no longer abstract and no longer refers to the future. The heat waves, floods, and droughts we experience or see in the news, and the endless news of more to come, make the catastrophe easier to imagine. Public pressure is on the rise, from Insulate Britain blocking roads to surveys showing that most people are seriously concerned about the climate emergency.
The scientific reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have shown beyond any doubt that we can only stabilize the Earth’s climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to an average of zero, known as zero net emissions. This means that the energy transition from fossil fuels is not a matter of whether, but when.
The transition to feeding society with renewable energy is now also technologically and economically viable. Wind and solar costs have fallen below the cost of building plants to produce electricity generated by oil and gas, with further falls expected. The economic argument for inaction is gone.
Given that countries and companies have left the action to the last second possible, and the stakes are very high, an avalanche of ads is coming. What should we do with them?
The baffling complexity of Glasgow talks can be seen, at its simplest, as a battle between three major blocs of countries, companies and protest movements. They are not formal groupings and do not negotiate together, but they can be grouped together because they want similar results.
The first is made up of poor and vulnerable countries, marginalized communities and protesters who will be outside the SEC while the negotiations unfold. They want urgent action to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, funding to achieve it and a climate change adaptation plan. Equity is the center of their demands.
The second bloc wants to delay climate action by almost all necessary means. These are extractive states, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia, and their allies in the fossil fuel and airline industries.
The third bloc wants a transition to zero net that consolidates its position of power in the world. It is made up of the EU, the US and China, big companies like Unilever and Amazon, along with much of the financial sector. Apart from China, they all advocate that markets offer zero net efficiently.
The three-way battle has already resulted in some surprising and rapid changes. Countries that have some 77% of global carbon dioxide emissions they are now covered by mid-century net zero ads, including countries traditionally hostile to climate action, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia, as well as the US, EU, UK and China.
But why do climate lags voluntarily announce zero net targets? This may be a mixture of first block global disgrace and simple cynicism because they think they will not face the consequences of losing those goals. However, it’s likely also because within the third bloc the EU has accepted, and Democrats in the U.S. have proposed, “carbon border adjustments” to impose tariffs on high-carbon imports. This means that exporting countries will have to reduce their emissions to access these huge markets.
This battle to shape the future will continue in Glasgow as countries negotiate rules on transparency, which would allow the UN to check what different nations are doing to achieve their goals. Negotiations on the rules governing carbon markets will also be strained. The prospect of interconnected markets for a new consumable global commodity, carbon, is a boom that banks and the financial industry are putting pressure on. But many are skeptical that carbon accounting tricks outweigh the actual emission reductions.
In general, there are serious problems with the seemingly sensible thinking of block three: that if governments in the central areas of the global economy invest to start a green industrial revolution, then the market will lower the prices of new technological solutions that exceed the fossils. fuels and reduce emissions, and adjustments to carbon borders will bring the world with them.
Critically, this will not be close enough to shut down most of the fossil fuel industry and really solve the climate problem. Stopping the new exploration of fossil fuels must go hand in hand with investing in alternatives. However, many governments that establish themselves as rational followers of science are self-deceiving. They reduce emissions at home and at the same time grant more licenses for oil, coal and gas for export. Norway, the UK, the US and Canada are doing this.
Perhaps a more fundamental problem with the market-driven approach of the EU, the US and the UK is that markets are not fair. The Covid vaccine scandal has shown how new technologies and market approaches have left billions vulnerable. Unprecedented international cooperation is needed to tackle the climate crisis. And within countries, if the transition to net zero is not experienced as a fair and just transition, plans will derail and catastrophe will ensue.
Glasgow is a crucial moment. The world can’t afford more delays in climate action, so climate destroyers don’t have to come out with theirs. But for the most powerful countries and companies, they must realize that a transition to zero net cannot be achieved by relying on the markets. They need to listen to vulnerable countries and people. The solution to the climate crisis requires swift and fair action.
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