Climate Corner: COP26 in Glasgow

Oct 30, 2021

Aaron Dunbar

I was four years old when parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held their first annual conference to agree to do nothing about the existential threat of climate change. You’ll forgive me if my now-30-year-old self sees little reason for optimism in anticipation of the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow this Sunday.

It’s been estimated that more than half of our 1.5 trillion tonnes of CO2 emissions since 1751 have been produced in the past 30 years alone — more or less the exact same period that UNFCCC parties have been meeting every year to work on “fixing the problem.”

This is, in effect, akin to finding out from your doctor that you’re at imminent risk of a heart attack, and immediately switching to an all-Big Mac diet to try and preserve your health.

As of this writing, COP26 hasn’t even begun yet, and numerous world powers are already trying to weasel their way out of whatever toothless half-measures we can probably expect to see over the course of the next two weeks.

Recent reporting by the BBC revealed that several nations, including Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia, have been lobbying the U.N. to try and water down its climate reports. Wording such as “the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales …” has been specifically targeted by these nations, which are all, not coincidentally, massive users and/or producers of fossil fuels.

Odds are, we can expect much aggrandizement of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology as an “alternative” to actually reducing fossil fuel emissions, despite it being largely a wishful fairytale technology at this point. Just last month, the Swiss company Climeworks opened up its Orca facility, the largest carbon-removal plant on Earth, in Iceland. In a year’s time, it will have negated approximately three meager seconds’ worth of global emissions from our atmosphere.

Whether or not this technology ever becomes usable at anywhere near the necessary scale, it’s clear that its appeal is the same as so many climate “solutions” being proposed by high polluting nations — taking a problem that’s happening right here and right now, and proclaiming that it’ll be solvable 20 or 30 years in the future, without any concrete evidence to that effect.

Meanwhile, senior observers of COP26 have stated that the summit is unlikely to meet even the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement, which is itself woefully inadequate in getting climate change under control.

Nations such as China, Russia, and India have not yet made further pledges to pollution cuts. The United States, the greatest contributor to climate change throughout all of industrialized history, and currently the world’s second highest emitter behind China, has pledged to slash emissions “50 to 52 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade,” according to The New York Times. However, there is little to suggest that meaningful progress is being made to this effect, with one of our nation’s two serious political parties still flat-out denying that climate change even exists, and the other giving lip-service to climate issues while simultaneously stripping crucial climate legislation from the still-gestating and virtually moribund infrastructure bill.

I keep thinking of the term Mutually Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) in relation to the dynamics between major powers that refuse to decarbonize. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but the way that so many nations are unwilling to phase out fossil fuels for fear of being one-upped economically (for instance, opponents of green energy in the U.S. say that we can’t have it because then China will be stronger than us), is grimly reminiscent of the nuclear proliferation and brinksmanship that threatened the entire world throughout the latter half of the 20th Century (the U.S. can’t reduce its world-ending nuclear arsenal because then Russia will be stronger than us.) In both cases, the only ends achieved is widespread death and destruction, through the means of a rabidly competitive suicidal idiocy.

Given everything that’s at stake, and the vanishingly small time frame we have left in which to take action on climate, what exactly might a “successful” COP26 even look like at this point?

To quote the answer of activist group Extinction Rebellion: “How about a world war-sized mobilisation in every high-emitting country to decarbonise as quickly as possible. Anything else will result in mass death and an increasingly uninhabitable world.”

As important as it should be, I can all but guarantee you that this event will be nothing but political posturing from a group of deranged world leaders- a whole lot of sound and fury, signifying absolutely nothing.

We, the people, must rise up and demand that our governments be held accountable for their failure to reckon with the looming catastrophe that is global warming. If our leaders refuse to act then we must force their hand into doing so, or else risk abandoning our country, and the world, to the corrupting forces of ecological collapse unleashed by an elite few.

Time is up. We simply cannot wait for change from the top down any longer. The moment to act on climate is now.


Aaron Dunbar is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.