Here are a few things we learned from week one of #COP26Glasgow
Politicians and activists are not going to solve this problem
It is not clear yet, but there are reports that over 30,000 politicians and activists gathered in Glasgow for this year’s Conference of the Parties. Already their huge numbers and evident impact on the climate through air travel has been noted as a Public Relations disaster. There are reports of over 100 private jets having landed in Glasgow to bring in the VIPs, some transporting limousines and other fuel guzzlers. Many of the people who came also really didn’t need to be in Glasgow because their role was either peripheral or non-critical. Most activists, for example, have not played any significant roles in the Glasgow summit. The youth especially were invited to Glasgow to only watch proceedings on their laptops in the green zone.
When the conference got underway, it took a familiar tone, with politicians delivering ‘nice speeches’ and countries making non-binding pledges from methane emissions reduction, afforestation, phasing out of coal, limiting global warming, and finally providing the 100 USD billion dollars promised by the rich nations to developing countries for adaptation projects.
Uhuru Kenyatta, the President of Kenya for example gave a nice speech about how Kenya had developed a ‘robust’ climate change action plan. While Kenya has a low carbon energy footprint, the country continues to have a huge problem with deforestation because of the population’s reliance on wood products. For example, almost all of the 50,000 Kenyan schools rely on wood fuel to prepare meals for the children. Over 90 percent of all rural populations primarily rely on wood fuel as well. Manufacturing also burns wood in their tonnage because electricity remains very expensive. In recent years, the government has placed moratoriums on logging and charcoal trade but this has not slowed down this problem. More efforts are therefore needed to stop this problem. More ambition is thus needed in increasing the forest cover. The pledged 10% by 2022 is way too little.
Politicians won’t solve this problem because they lack ambition and are failing to lead
The speech by Barbados Prime Minister, Her Excellency Mia Mottley, got the whole internet talking. In her speech, she accused the world leaders of failing to lead, which proved to be very much the case as the conference closed on week one. Their interventions and pledges have largely lacked ambition. Perhaps the most damning of these is the failure of China, the United States, India, and Australia to make the coal commitment.
Activists lack clarity in Glasgow
The work of climate activism particularly from youth has been great over the few years. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist has managed to recruit millions of young people to this cause, starting her journey by skipping school when only aged 15 years and spending her time outside the Swedish parliament to protest. Today she leads an able army of ‘kids’ from Uganda to Poland to India. In 2019 she delivered a significant speech to world leaders stating, “how dare you? you have stolen my youth and dreams.”
But in Glasgow, their message has not been coherent. Here, they are just shouting at politicians, both when their representatives are invited into meetings and when they participate in protests. We have not been made aware of any documents on proposals presented by the youth that negotiators and politicians can work with. Perhaps the best attempt they have put forward is an open letter by Greta Thunberg, Vanessa Nakate, Dominika Lasota, and Mitzi Tan which has been signed as a petition by close to 2 million persons. But if activists cant get to the tables of negotiations, they will largely be ignored and they must now change tact, for no amount of climate strikes are going to change how politicians operate and what they do. The good thing is, youth can vote, and as this crisis has shown, they can lead too!
Watershed moment as GFANZ is announced
A watershed moment came on day three of the climate summit when an international coalition of private financial institutions announced the availability of $130 trillion for climate action. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) led by Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England, brings together over 450 financial institutions. On paper, 130 trillion USD is more than enough money to put the world at net zero in just a decade. There are however serious questions about how these private funds are going to be utilized and whether there will be ambition from politicians to tap them in a manner that is swift enough to make impacts. Without a clear model, this announcement may end up being a publicity stunt engineered by the financial institutions, many of which continue to fund coal and fossil energy projects globally.
A model that may prove replicable is the announcement that South Africa will get 8 billion to end reliance on coal. If that can be replicated, next should be India and there should be some kind of commitment made at COP26 to make funds available to India immediately from GFANZ.
If that can be done, then #COP26Glasgow will be a success, even if we do nothing else. And that is why Alok Sharma, President of COP26, should get these GFANZ leaders back into the room for further validation grilling, otherwise, climate activists will call this bluff off in a week and COP26 will be declared a failure. END