At one point, COP26 was billed as another of humanity’s “last chances” to tackle the gathering Climate Crisis. While there seems to be widespread acknowledgement things are getting worse, governments continue to be hamstrung by vocal minorities and self-interest groups, often in their own ranks.
Headlines have been dominated by the “failure” to commit to phase out coal power generation. Instead, at the behest of the Indian and Chinese Governments, there’s to be a “phasing down”. A somewhat nebulous term, parts of the UK Government are spinning this to mean “the same thing”, while Chinese and Indian press state the opposite.
Which leads to a wider issue around spin. The Press Gazette reported on journalist concerns so much spin and obfuscation was taking place, it was near impossible to critique some of the press coming out of the conference. Techniques learnt during the Brexit campaign, and now entrenched in Government messaging, were allegedly in widespread use. The UK Government, so eager for success to deflect on failures, corruption and incompetence, appears to have lied its way through the event. What may have worked in parts of the UK press did little to impress on the global stage.
Some might argue failure was inevitable. At its helm was Alok Sharma, a politician whose voting record against measures to tackle climate change is well known. While the UK Government talk a “zero-carbon future”, its policies say otherwise. Big-Fossil was present in force, lobbying to maintain the status quo. Nations directly affected by the climate crisis were denied seats at important sessions. Big polluters stayed away, or crippled the negotiations before they began.
There were some wins, and we shouldn’t forget them. Commitments to reduce deforestation, end production of ICE powered cars and cut methane emissions are positives. A slew of carbon-neutral commitments from corporations should also be taken as positives. Assuming they are acted upon.
Yet overall my view is this was a conference targeted more at a home UK audience than a truly global one. It failed to deliver what was needed to limit the effect on human activity on the climate, and that will only make future conferences harder.
Eyes must now turn to COP27 in Egypt next year. I hold out little hope for success there either.
Next week’s Tuesday Dispatch should be back to normal.