Fridays for the Future #8: U.N. COP26 Climate Summit Ends with a Fizzle

Posting every Friday at noon is how I act in solidarity with young climate strikers all over the world who want their elders to save their future.

COP26: How humans save the planet

Diplomats and leaders from over 200 countries finished up COP26 in Glasgow last week. They met to  save the planet.  Stick with Jesus.

Scientists agree that a change of even 2°C (3.6°F) in average temperatures will have devastating effects. The negotiators all agreed that something must be done, only they didn’t agree on exactly what or exactly when. But if everyone continues to do what they are doing now, the average temperature on the planet will rise by 2.4°C in this century. To prevent catastrophe, all nations need to cut their carbon dioxide emissions in half this decade, beginning immediately. That won’t be easy or cheap, as this photo of coal barges in Indonesia by Willy Kurniawan of Reuters makes clear:

Coal barges in Indonesia; there are a lot of them, and they are absolutely loaded. There must be 500 tons of coal visible in the picture.

The climate talks finished Saturday with a declaration, as they usually do. Some of the main takeaways from the declaration are:

  • A call for a phase-down of unabated coal use and a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. (Unabated” means that no technology was used to removed carbon emissions from the air when the coal was used — yes that’s a plan. See this Mother Jones article, too).
  • Rich countries promise to help poor countries deal with the climate-induced change. (Keeping that promise has not happened so far).
  • Rules for carbon offsets have been set
  • Countries are encouraged to revisit their 2030 targets once in a while
  • Some observers think that limiting the planet-wide temperature increase to 1.5°C might be doable

Not everyone is smiling and praising their great work. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres responded by putting out a statement thanking the U.K. government for being lovely hosts. But it went on to say:

Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread.
We are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.
It is time to go into emergency mode—or our chance of reaching net zero will itself be zero.
I reaffirm my conviction that we must end fossil fuels subsidies. Phase out coal.
Put a price on carbon.
Build resilience of vulnerable communities against the here and now impacts of climate change.

In short, he feels it is too little, too late. Better something than nothing, but the earth won’t wait until Sen. Joe Manchin (D-Coal) is out of office.

Greta Thunberg told BBC Scotland:

“They even succeeded in watering down the blah, blah, blah which is quite an achievement.”

Political fiddling while the climate burns

The COP26 agreement does have some nice-sounding words though. Phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies sounds good. Does that mean we now need efficient fossil fuel subsidies? How does one measure the efficiency of a fossil fuel subsidy? Of course, phasing out subsidies is not the same as phasing out coal itself. The problem with fuel and other areas is that making changes is very disruptive and expensive and somebody will have to pay for it. People are now going nuts about 6% inflation — imagine energy costs going up enormously! Such increases won’t be popular in Arizona (think: air conditioning in the summer) or Minnesota (think: heating in the winter). The oil companies are in full court press mode to save their profits, not the planet, even though they have the resources to do so. (Did you even know the oil company CEOs were questioned by congress?)

The deal is just words, of course. It is the implementation that matters. In each country, domestic politics will play a huge role. In the U.S., if the Biden administration and a Democratic Congress is replaced in 2025 with a Trump administration and a Republican administration, the implementation might just be a bit different. Currently, the U.S. and the European Union have promised to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere by 2050. China has promised it by 2060. But a Trump administration, under pressure from fossil fuel companies, could just say “climate change is a hoax” and rip up the plan.

Many countries are already seeing the effects of climate change in the form of more wildfires, fiercer storms, flooding, and other effects. But the rich countries can manage those effects better. California will not be depopulated due to more fires. But if the global temperature rises by 2°C, the country of the Maldives will be under water and uninhabitable. So will much of Bangladesh. Florida will, too, but at least Floridians can move to Georgia or Alabama. The Dhivehin and Bangladeshis have nowhere to go. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees will try to escape to other countries. It won’t be pretty. (See my Todd Miller post from Mexico).

The power struggles are killing everything

The current administration will do its best, but the Republicans will undoubtedly do everything possible to block all the necessary steps outlined during COP26 because:

  • climate change is a hoax,
  • the Democrats want to do it,
  • not doing it will own the libs big time,
  • the oil, gas, and coal companies don’t want to do it
  • it will cost a lot of money and that means either new taxes or energy prices will have to rise or both.

If Congress refuses to pass the necessary laws (e.g., banning the operation of coal-fired electric power plants by 20[XX], banning the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 20[YY], etc.) there is only so much Joe Biden can do by executive order and every step he does take by 20[XO] will be met by an equal and opposite lawsuit and likely a counter-order the next time a Republican is in the White House.

On the other hand, if fighting climate change becomes a dominant issue in 2022, it could help the Democrats since most people—and especially the college-educated suburban voters who pulled the lever for the Republicans in Virginia and New Jersey—believe climate change is real and something needs to be done about it. Calling it a hoax and pooh-poohing it will probably not work well as a campaign issue for the Republicans next year. They are better off trying to make the midterms about parental rights, not climate change.

When I read sentences like those last few, I sit back and take a deep breath and turn my attention to Jesus, who calls me his beloved. I turn to love and then decide how to show it in troubled times. We all need the breath of life: coal-free from without, fear-free from within.

*** I lifted much of this from my favorite news aggregators, pleading jet lag.

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