A failure at COP26? Covid looms over crucial climate talks as some key leaders snub the event


UK government officials have expressed concern to CNN that some of the most important G20 nations have yet to disclose their nationally determined contributions (NDC) updates on cutting emissions to a few. days of the start of the summit.

The symbolic absence of several key leaders is also of concern. Chinese President Xi Jinping, leader of the world’s largest transmitter, is unlikely to be present, having not left the country since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

British officials had hoped that the successful rollout of the vaccine in the UK and the broader global response to the pandemic would mean the summit would go as close to normal as possible. However, in recent weeks the UK infection rate has skyrocketed and last week the country experienced its deadliest day since March. The consequences of lifting almost all Covid restrictions before summer and returning to normal life have become impossible to ignore.

Ministers are now facing calls to impose new restrictions, and Health Secretary Sajid Javid has raised the possibility of introducing vaccine passports and other measures for those most vulnerable to the virus.

Questions are now being raised about how all of this might affect COP26, which 25,000 people are expected to attend amid planned mass protests, as well as potential rail and bus strikes.

The pandemic is one of the reasons some world leaders say they will not participate. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have confirmed they will not come, while Mexican Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, South African Cyril Ramaphosa and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have yet to be confirmed – all G20 leaders who are prominent in the climate discourse because of their country’s emissions, fossil fuel production, or both.

“If a world leader chooses not to attend for whatever reason, it sends a very clear signal that climate is just not high on their priority list and is depleting momentum to the top,” said Mark Lynas, author of the book “Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency.”

“It cannot be entirely a coincidence that many of those who hesitate to attend the COP in person are in leading countries that are large emitters or producers of fossil fuels,” said Lynas.

Emphasizing the importance of COP26, Lynas says the Glasgow gathering “will not only be an event where people can pose for photos”, but our “last real chance to define action to meet the commitments made in Paris” limit warming to 1.5 C and halve emissions by 2030.

UK government officials downplayed the importance of any specific absences, saying what really matters are the emissions commitments and spending that come with any national delegation. However, they are aware that Glasgow needs concrete commitments to match the rhetoric of Paris, and anything that looks like a lack of seriousness on the part of some of the more powerful countries or the biggest emitters gives the tone to an unsuccessful peak.

China announces it will cut fossil fuel consumption to 20% by 2060, but makes no new emissions commitments

But even by this metric, the picture is grim. Saudi Arabia has pledged to reach net zero on Sunday, but only by 2060, which scientists say is 10 years too late. And as China unveiled its climate roadmap on the same day, it did not mention any real increase in its ambitions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, despite its pledge to cut fossil fuel consumption to 20%. by 2060.

Lynas explains that since the scientific consensus on climate change is now even more complete than in 2015, the only reason anyone might be reluctant to make the necessary commitments is “short-term financial considerations”.

Lynas isn’t the only one who believes how serious this moment is.

“This COP needs to be very honest about how little time we really have,” said Mary Robinson, former United Nations high representative for human rights and climate justice activist.

“This is not just a step on the way, but the moment when we need to succeed in Paris and commit to even more ambitious goals. We need firm commitments from India, Saudi Arabia, China, South Africa, Brazil to switch to clean energy and help the poorest countries make the switch. There is no room for maneuver. “

At this late stage of COP26, it’s not just Covid that is putting the summit in danger.

The global energy crisis has served as a reminder that there are very few ready-made alternatives gas and coal, as data shows that without serious government intervention, humans aren’t ready to stop burning fossils anytime soon.
A report supported by the UN and published earlier this year found that, despite commitments made in Paris and a reduction due to the global pandemic, “emissions are recovering quickly” and are “far from reduction targets.” Meanwhile, “the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue at record levels, putting the planet in a dangerous future warming.”

This is why COP26 is so important. As UN Secretary-General António Guterres says, unless something happens in this “critical year for climate action” then “limiting warming to 1.5 ° C will be impossible, with consequences catastrophic for the people and the planet on which we depend “.

Preparations are underway to host the conference in Glasgow, but uncertainty remains as to who will attend.

Much attention has been focused on the extent to which the Glasgow summit will be a success for Boris Johnson, given that he is hosting this crucial meeting. However, UK government officials have pointed out to CNN, not without reason, that Glasgow is on the verge of proving whether the commitments made in Paris are possible. Ambition is one thing; real-world action – like chopping coal, scrapping cars, planting trees, and putting money on the table – is what matters now. If Glasgow fails, Paris also fails.

Despite all the optimism surrounding COP26 earlier this year, as the event draws closer, the background music isn’t great. Several sources told CNN that fossil fuel-producing countries are fighting against any strong language pledging to meet the 1.5C target, and China has publicly accused the United States and the United Kingdom of having moved the goal posts from the original top end of 2C to Paris.

Reports have emerged in UK media as some of the world’s largest coal-producing countries are trying to water down the next Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on findings that threaten their national economic interest. Some of those countries – Australia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Japan – are the same ones that have either failed to update their emission reduction commitments or have done so without any significant increase in their commitments.

This is hardly a sign of global unity on climate.

COP26 comes as the world reaches a point of no return. If the commitments of the Paris Agreement are not met, then, according to the vast majority of science, it will be too late to curb the long-term impact of global warming.

What must be infuriating for Johnson is that as he prepares to host this vitally important summit, the solution to the greatest threat facing humanity is well known and perfectly achievable. . It just depends on his fellow world leaders who are caring enough. And one way or another, in 2021, it’s not something to be counted on.

CNN’s Radina Gigova contributed to this report.

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