I certainly hope that COP-26 will not be a cop out. Given that 25,000 people (smaller than usual for these meetings) gathered in the hip city of Glasgow, Scotland will produce a negotiated just agreement worthy of the expenditure of money, carbon, energy, time, travel and emotion, that’s a very, very tall order. We live in hope..
Full disclosure: I was present at COP-11 in Montreal in 2005 and at a similar meeting, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002. Attending with very little experience or understanding of global UN meetings I quickly learned about mitigation, adaptation, clean development, REDD (Forest Carbon partnership Facility) and all sorts of other mechanisms which undergird more wider ranging agreements amongst the so-called “united” nations.
Such nations certainly don’t appear that united when you are in the room, or I should say pacing the corridors and riding the escalators where many deals are furtively negotiated, though most agreements are sealed before the delegates arrive. Such gatherings are a mixture of good and ill intent. Daily briefings by national negotiating coalitions are tempered with strong and diverse NGO presentations and presence. It’s a lot to take in. It’s messy; it’s what we have available.
The general strategy for these global negotiations is follow the money. For many attending it’s all about keeping the money, or finding the money, or ensuring the money flows in particular directions. Differences between industrialized nations and those impoverished and punished by climate realities become starkly clear as the days roll on. One delegate asked me quietly in 2002 what I thought of globalization. Regardless of what I think, globalization and all the good it offers can only benefit all, if all participate in a generous way.
Concepts of climate debt (what those nations who have benefited from extractive and productive wealth owe to those nations who have had such safety and security taken from them), the estimation of what has been damaged over time, in many cases permanently—from rising sea levels, salt/fresh water contamination, pollution transfer between nations, severe droughts and rapacious fires (only now becoming more evident in richer nations—all these join other conversations focused on amongst other things, reparations.
At COP-26 arguably the most important conversation requiring significant agreed and tangible outcomes with a short-term schedule involves a single prevailing question: “How to get to Net-Zero, and fast.” Equally significant will be funding structures supporting net zero transitions in counties most affected by the climate crisis but least able to pay. Onetime Governor of both the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England Mark Carney in his recent book Values: Building a Better World for All provides a succinct explanation of what the COP could and should do.
It began in earnest in 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, where world leaders agreed to adopt a series of international environmental agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations. The Conference of Parties – commonly known as the COP and comprising representatives from nation states and UN bodies – meets annually and governs the UNFCCC.
He continues both economically and optimistically:
The urgency to reorient the financial system to finance the tens of trillions of dollars of investment needed over the next three decades for the transition to a sustainable economy. The complacency of many in finance not knowing their own carbon budgets, not having net-zero transition paths, not understanding their impact on an existential crisis.
Carney remains hopeful that COP can do as I suggest above, follow the money and direct it to a good place. Other UN agreements around biodiversity, water and indigenous land rights and justice seek with good effect to right wrongs and manage things well, such actions lauded by none other than Bill Gates and David Attenborough. The need and effect of these initiatives notwithstanding, nibbling around the edges is not enough. The centre of our global common economic activity needs urgent and significant reform. The love and control of money lurks and remains the primary obstacle to success.
If Gretta Thunberg suggests that much COP discussion is blah, blah, blah, she identifies powerfully the unwillingness of so many leaders, negotiators and politicians to genuinely embrace a new economics, to commit to a new way of sharing power and the gifts of the earth, and to use a very Anglican phrase, to admit to those things done and left undone (The Book of Common Prayer). We have created new global structures within recent memory, notably through the Breton Woods Conventions following the Second World War. The author Seth Klein suggests we adopt a war posture, combining the best of public and private sector wisdom, talent and expertise. Activists worldwide shout that we need to immediately transition away from fossil fuel extraction, transmission and combustion, especially through the avoidance of coal, gas and oil. Unionized workers complain, with some justification, that transitional planning is not sufficiently robust. Another key conversation at COP and for all nations once returned home is the detail of what a just transition looks like.
Beyond all of this obstruction and obfuscation there remains a simple truth, seen through the COVID lens where the anti-vaxers simply will not consider the safety of their neighbours let alone their friends and families. At COP, the only way forward will be for negotiators to (as the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives suggest in their organizational tagline) to “think again.”
St. Paul encourages the early Church at Philippi with the following words: “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”
The key phrase is “made himself nothing” gk: kenosis, to pour out or empty.The closest equivalent in English is humility. Many will claim that humility has no place in global negotiations. Well if that’s true, even in small measure, we’re hooped. If the only real response to our collective future is fear, mitigated only through the acquisition of massive amounts of surplus wealth, then the competition will continue; “Let the games begin” and good luck to the losers. That’s what happened at COP-15 in Copenhagen in 2009. The meeting was a catastrophic failure derailed by nationalist ambition and corporate self-interest with a survivalist mentality. An agreement at COP-21 in Paris presented at the last minute remains an encouraging sign of hope which is woefully ignored to date.
Let’s hope this in not the case in Glasgow. There are people of faith directly involved; the President of Seychelles is an Anglican priest. I recall people calling some faith community partners aside expressing gratitude for our presence. As we are able, let’s pray, speak and watch carefully. Hopefully, COP-26 will not be a COP-out.
“. . . Copenhagen in 2009. The meeting was a catastrophic failure derailed by nationalist ambition and corporate self-interest with a survivalist mentality. . . ” A good description of me vis this crisis: giving a percentage of my income to citizens of countries living without, yet not exactly willing to do anything radical like sponsor a family to come and live in our home or willing to have our gov’t spend grand sums to bring entire populations over here because we have our own national interests to protect; having significant savings dependent on shares in corporations which I want/need/hope will keep giving me those high dividends, while averting my glance from how they do so; and simply wanting to survive well as I age more, hoping others will solve this dangerous dilemma and mitigate things without a) forcing Canada to do anything so radical as to send our economy into third world status; b) making corporations terribly unprofitable by imposing enormous restrictions on their productivity; and c) turning my retirement world upside down to the point where I’m afraid of losing all I have while hoping next year’s wildfires burn areas other than my own. IOW, individuals have within them in microcosm the same conflicted clashing of ambition, self-interest and surivalism whom entire nations and continents and governments are representing at COP-21. Follow the money? You better believe am certainly following where mine is coming from; and want it to continue. Getting five neighbours on our street to agree on a mutual strategy to reduce energy consumption, to wildfire-proof our yards, carpool, and contribute services/money to neighbours in need would be a daunting endeavour. COP-21 is trying to do the same among neighbours more or less on the same street . . . all while doing this without China and Russia.
A very good post by one who knows the ins and outs of environmental conferencing. Thank you Ken for this.
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I very much appreciate all you say Ken. Reading of something one often wonders about as to what happens in “off
the record” discussions gives a sense of the reality of these very costly events. ( I should read Mark Carney’s book)
Carney was once seen reading a book Archbishop Justin Welby wrote about finance etc. on the London Underground.
Recently I read Chine McDonald’s ” God is not a white man.” A challenging book to read, pointed out by both Justin
Welby and Michael Curry. In a remarkable, honest and faithful approach the book challenges white supremacy and
all that goes along with that. I find it hard not to relate some of what she speaks of to our present ‘climate dilemma.’
In this piece you write Ken, do you mean to say David Attenborough? along with Bill Gates?
I do indeed hope some positive comes from COP26, for the sake of the younger folk for whom it matters most-
We owe to them!!
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Thanks Ray. The Carney book is long but a good read. I have almost finished it after many weeks. It will be in your regional library for sure. A better way to experience Carney may be Paul Wells’ interview with him at https://www.macleans.ca/news/mark-carney-sits-down-with-paul-wells-macleans-in-conversation/ Thanks for the Attenborough slip. Now corrected. I remember the story about Mark Carney reading the ABC’s Lenten book on the tube. There are no secrets . . .
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Some random thoughts.
I don’t consider myself to be a hard-core pessimist but it is, frankly, difficult to place much faith in the system controlled, as it is, by the money though I am tempted to be tempted (to be tempted…) by the efforts of Mark Carney. Is it only because he’s a Canadian that I find his statements alluring? Am I that parochial? Will those who control the money also be too parochial? Follow the money and direct it to a good place, indeed. Nibbling around the edges is not enough: well put.
“Paris presented at the last minute remains an encouraging sign of hope which is woefully ignored to date”. How can it be, at one and the same time, an encouraging sign of hope and be woefully ignored? Ignoring hope seems hopeless.
Today I’ll focus locally. I’ll work on the farm to sequester carbon, increase biodiversity, build community, increase local food security and address climate change. Keeps me sane.
“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.” T.T. Williams