COP26 is the world’s last best chance to avoid climate collapse
By Mark Dunlea, Green Education and Legal Fund (gelfny.org)
In early November, the world’s governmental leaders and civil society will gather in Glasgow for COP26 (Committee of Parties), the five-year update to the Paris climate accords.
Many are calling it the “last chance COP”. The IPCC (International Panel of Climate Change) and the United Nations, which represent the middle-of-the-road positions among climate scientists, have been issuing increasingly dire warnings that the world is barreling to climate collapse. The pledges made by governments since Paris fall far short of the radical steps needed to keep global warming below the target level of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The United States has been both the principal driver of climate change and the major barrier to essential climate action. While China and India with their billion-plus populations have major carbon footprints, the per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. far surpass the rest of the world. And the US and its multinational corporations export even more emissions by outsourcing factories and livestock raising/agriculture production.
The United States, under the Clinton-Gore administration, was among a handful of countries that refused to ratify the Kyoto protocols. The Obama-Biden administration led the fight in coalition with the other industrial polluters in Paris to oppose mandatory emissions cuts while arguing to keep the target warming cap at 2 degrees; the Trump administration then pulled the U.S. out of the climate accords.
Climate change is already happening and getting worse, as historic extreme weather events become more frequent with massive hurricanes, flooding, drought, wildfires, and heatwaves. It is estimated that at the present rate of emissions, the world will exceed its remaining “carbon budget” if it is to keep below 1.5 degree C of warming within seven years – though some scientists think the timeframe is much shorter.
While it is too late to prevent some level of climate change, the world still has the opportunity to mitigate its worse efforts.
The biggest challenge remains political, not technological. The world’s business and political leaders continue to put economic greed ahead of the common good. Rapid advances are being made in increasing the efficiency and lowering the costs of renewable energy and battery storage. More advances however are needed, including in industrial processes such as cement. Energy conservation and efficiency remain the most cost-effective climate strategies.
The upfront costs for a rapid transition to a clean energy future – closer to a timeline of 2030 rather than 2050 – are massive. It will pay for itself many times over with increased job creation, lower energy costs and improved health outcomes while reducing the enormous costs we are already experienced from climate change. In NY alone, it is estimated that air pollution, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, kills 3,000 people annually and results in $30 billion in increased health care costs. It is estimated that 5 to 10 million die annually worldwide from air pollution.
The credibility of the U.S. government on climate and other issues is at a historical low, with the U.S. losing its position as the world’s leader. President Biden had hoped to show up in Glasgow with a large green economic stimulus with a major climate component. But his initial $6 trillion over a decade proposal was far less than what Senator Bernie Sanders, mainstream climate groups (the THRIVE agenda), and the Green Party (which initiated the call in the U.S. for a Green New Deal in 2010) had called for. The Senate leadership then reduced the request to $3.5 trillion, and after being blocked by 2 Senate Democrats, Biden is now pleading for $2 trillion. And while the Democrats fight over reducing funding for climate action, they continue to plow ever more money into the enormous military-industrial complex.
Biden has also refused to take strong Executive Actions as outlined in ClimatePresident.org, steps that he is legally able to do without Congressional approval.
Corporate greenwashing, the funding of false climate solutions that will primarily increase the profits of corporate campaign donors, is embraced by both major parties. Especially troubling are the many proposals to enable the continued burning of fossil fuels, such as carbon offsets, “net zero”, expansion of nuclear power and carbon capture technology.
Key issues in Glasgow will be what deeper levels in emission cuts will countries pledge (need to be mandatory rather than voluntary) and how much aid (reparations) will the industrial polluting nations provide to assist the Global South and other developing nations – the principal victims of the first world’s industrial excesses – in responding to climate change.
COP26 is expected to promote the role of natural systems in curbing global warming, and to make polluters pay. The IPCC is also increasingly focusing on the need to reform our agriculture / food systems to be more sustainable.
The Bible – the sacred scriptures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims – embrace the call for Jubilee, that every fifty years debts must be forgiven. Jubilee is based less on the concept of justice and charity but more on the recognition by the ancient world that the economy must be regularly rebooted to keep it functioning, to the benefit of both the rich and the poor. With the world still suffering from COVID and the climate crisis accelerating, never has Jubilee been more needed. With the world becoming a less habitable place for humans, we need to focus on ensuring that the needs of everyone – not just the wealthy – are protected.
Pope Francis and the IPCC recognize that the capitalist system with its focus on the maximization of profit has failed to benefit the majority of the world’s inhabitants. Politicians tinkering with “the market” to encourage hedge funds to invest in renewable energy will lead to climate collapse. Solving climate change requires us to solve the related problems of income inequality and racial and social injustice. We need system change.
Many in New York are calling for an expansion of public ownership of the energy system. At a minimum, we need comprehensive democratic planning to ensure that the buildout of a renewable energy future will maximize its impacts and benefits. The U.S. – and the world – need to respond to the climate emergency similar to how we responded after Pearl Harbor. The government took control of much of the manufacturing system to build what was needed to save the country.
We have already wasted far too much time. Band-Aids will not cure the illness.