Will COP26 be a Cop Out?

21 Oct 2021

The climate scientists drum beat of concerning data continues with an increased rhythm and it is becoming clear to all but the global leaders that we are running out of time for material action.

As COP26 approaches, national leaders across the world should be galvanising and both individually and collectively evidencing real action to deliver on prior promises and commitments. Sadly, what might be expected appears to be far from the real situation.

It is very apparent that climate change can’t be addressed by a small number of nations. Global pollution and its effects have no respect for man-made sovereign borders. Possibly, for the first time in history, the world needs to truly work together for the greater good and ultimate survival. 

It’s complicated. The world needs full cooperation and commitment from the biggest polluters and the richest and most powerful nations, leaving their greed, egos and empty promises behind. In the short term, it’s those same countries that have the most to lose and need to spend the most in an altruistic manner.

It’s no coincidence that the largest economies have established themselves as powerhouses at the expense of the climate. Much of their industry depends on carbon fuels to function and importantly their infrastructure is from a time when carbon fuels were seen as the future.

So with that background and political short-termism combined, it’s no surprise that the question of climate and sustainability becomes deeply mired in protectionism, nationalism and global politics.

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, China’s Xi Jiping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador are not expected to attend COP26. Japan’s Fumio Kishida may also be absent from the Summit, which is about to start in Glasglow, Scotland, at the end of this month.

According to an analysis by Carbon Brief on CO2 emissions from land use and forestry, as well as those from fossil fuels, it showed the US as the largest CO2 emitter in history, accounting to 20% of the global total, followed by China with 11%. In third place came Russia (7%), Brazil (5%) and Indonesia (4%).

There is a real sense of urgency, as the world has already used 85% of the CO2 budget that would give a 50% chance of limiting heating to 1.5C, according to Carbon Brief’s data.

According to the OECD, CO2 from the combustion of fossil fuels and biomass accounts for about 90% of total CO2 emissions and two thirds of total GHG emissions.

The top most powerful nations in the world, China and the US, are the top polluters, followed by India, Russia and Japan. China produces 28% of global emissions, more CO2 than all nations put together.

Will geopolitical competition between China and the US help the world tackle climate change?

China and the US should be leaving their differences aside and be focusing on setting up plans in order to tackle one of, if not the most challenging projects of our time, climate change.

The recent defense deal, the Aukus trilateral security partnership between the US, the UK and Australia, added to existing regional military tensions has not helped to soothe relations between the US and China, creating a stand-off which has the potential to evolve into a new cold war.

Additionally, issues like trade, the South China Sea, human rights, the threat of Chinese invasion in Taiwan and intellectual property theft, have contributed to more tensions and disagreement between both nations. This may impact heavily on their commitment to climate change.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to cut down emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2060, given its economic development is highly reliant on the fossil fuel industry.

More than half of all power in China is generated from coal, using 3 billion tonnes of thermal coal each year. Coal is the biggest contributor to climate change, accounting to 46% of carbon dioxide emissions across the world.

Coal is not the only concern. China produced around one billion tonnes of steel last year, which is the second most polluting industry after coal.

We can easily notice a pattern here. Chinese demand for coal is expected to increase until 2026, therefore increasing carbon emissions until 2030, contradicting the country’s emission goals. Chinese banks and corporations continue to finance and build coal-fired power plants across many countries.

Supply and demand – is it all China’s fault?

Since opening up to foreign trade and investment and implementing free-market reforms in 1979, China has become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

The world has actively supported China becoming its industrial heartland. Built upon cheap labour, available raw materials and a welcoming government policy, a huge percentage of commodity product manufacturing has moved to China from other historic manufacturing nations, including the US, the UK, the EU, and other nations.  Servicing the demand has created pressure to build manufacturing infrastructure at the lowest cost possible, and that leads to low tech solutions like carbon based energy production.

It’s no surprise that China has rapidly become one of the biggest global polluters. Other nations have essentially pushed into China their polluting industries.

The denialistic approach

The Production Gap report released by the UN, states that governments across the world still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 and that the majority of gas and oil producers plan on increasing production beyond 2030. 

G20 countries have directed nearly USD 300 billion in new funds towards fossil fuel activities since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — more than they have toward clean energy, which contradicts entirely to the message they have been giving us all along.

According to a leak of tens of thousands of comments by governments, corporations, academics and others on the draft report of the IPCC’s ‘Working Group III’, recently published by Unearthed, fossil fuel producers including Australia, Saudi Arabia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are lobbying the IPCC – the world’s leading authority on climate change – to remove or weaken a key conclusion that the world needs to rapidly phase out fossil fuels.

These scandalous and irresponsible actions go on. Australia asks the IPCC to delete analysis explaining how lobbying by fossil fuel companies has weakened action on climate change in Australia and the US. Saudi Arabia repeatedly seeks to have the report’s authors delete references to the need to phase out fossil fuels.

Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s biggest producers of beef and animal feed crops like soya beans, have also been pressing the IPCC to water down and delete messages about the climate benefits of promoting ‘plant-based’ diets and of curbing meat and dairy consumption. 

There is no slowing down. According to the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030, global GHG emissions from agriculture are projected to increase by 4% over the next ten years, with livestock accounting for more than 80% of this increase.

Meat production requires significant use of resources such as land, feed and water and is also a great contributor to climate change. By 2030, 34% of the agricultural production in Latin American and the Caribbean, is projected to be exported.

Brazil, the US and Europe are the three largest meat exporting countries. China is the world’s largest meat importer. According to the Brazilian Meat Exporting Industry Association, between January and July this year, shipments of beef from Brazil to China reached 490,000 tons and generated sales of US$2.5bn, an increase of 8.6 per cent and 13.8 per cent, respectively, compared with the same period last year.

In China, per capita beef consumption is projected to rise a further 8% by 2030, after having risen 35% in the last decade.

Brazil has been the main destination for Chinese investments in South America, having received US$ 66.1 billion, equivalent to 47% of the total invested, in the last decade until 2020.

Between 2007 and 2020, Chinese companies made large investments in Brazil, mainly in the electricity sector, which attracted 48% of the total value, followed by oil extraction, with a 28% share, and mining, with 7%. 

A recently published report, The Lancet Countdown, mentioned that over a 6- month period in 2020, over 51 million people were affected by at least 84 disasters from storms, droughts and floods across the world.

The fact is that there is no going around the subject of climate change. Unless the situation we put ourselves is taken seriously and faced head on with immediate action, all of humanity faces a tragic future, or no future at all.  None of the world leaders, who continuously deny the situation, will be here to tell the story.

Nature has already shown its clear message to the world with extreme weather events like floods, wild fires, volcano eruptions, death and horrific devastation across the world, including in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, across Europe, India, Russia and the US. Turning a blind eye to these events and the certainty of a much worse scenario shows total irresponsibility and disregard to life, to each one of us, as well as to every single living being on this planet.

The world is calling for global leadership on a scale never seen before, at the very time when nations are sadly turning inwardly and political factions are more concerned with domestic rivalry and individual gains. 

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