Did we step forward - or slip further into the abyss?
"We are on the verge of the abyss." Those were the words of Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, speaking in the lead up to Cop26. He is not someone to throw words around carelessly, unlike other global leaders we could name. He talks with both precision and passion, and what seems to be an unavoidable shade of despair. Another world leader called Cop26 "the world's moment of truth", and yet another spoke of "the last chance saloon." So did the delegates and decision-makers at Cop26 face up to the truth and act accordingly? Or did they evade the hard decisions
and continue to act as if we had all the time in the world? Did we move forward or slip further into
There can be no simple answer to these questions. It depends on who you are and where you are, and what axe you have to grind. What follows here is a gathering together of some of the most memorable voices (both spoken and written) that emerged out of the cacophony of Cop26. It is an opportunity to reflect on which voices continue to carry conviction and which now seem like combustible gas. It is an impressionistic collection, intended as an accessible record of some of the many things that were said - for immediate perusal and for further reflection when the Cop caravan has moved on towards its next destination. A more reflective understanding of what happened this time might help us to achieve a better result at Cop27. One thing already seems certain. It is not productive for us to keep saying to ourselves that this is the last possible moment to make the right decisions. We have to act as if we do have a tomorrow and we can make a difference. The alternative is terminal despair. GD
Is this the voice of terminal despair? Sticking climate change up your arse may be a perverse pleasure but it is not an antidote to catastrophe. Yet anarchic frustration is an inevitable response when you feel you are not being listened to, and you have been locked out of the meeting halls. The young were referred to and praised by delegates throughout the two weeks of Cop26, but only a select few were given a proper hearing.
Despite limiting their access to the debate, the Cop26 President, Alok Sharma, expressed his admiration for the contribution of the young. He openly acknowledged that they have fought fiercely to hold on to the target of keeping global temperature rise to no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared with
pre-industrial levels. Yet he barred most of them from access to the main halls and platforms. Let us hope his successor is less restrictive and self-contradictory.
"Wherever I have been in the world, I have been struck by the passion and the commitment of young people to climate action. The voices of young people must be heard and reflected in these negotiations here at COP. The actions and scrutiny of young people are key to us keeping 1.5 alive and creating a net-zero future."
"We need to come out of Glasgow saying, with credibility, that we have kept 1.5C alive. That 1.5C really matters. We know from the IPCC [the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] that we are already at global warming of 1.1C above pre-industrial levels. At 1.5C, there will be countries in the world that will be under water and that’s why we need to get an agreement here on how we tackle climate change over the next decade.”
Members of the G20 - the forum for leaders of the world's twenties richest nations - had committed themselves to the same 1.5C target a few days before, in Rome. This was their response to the growing realisation that temperature rises beyond that figure would prove catastrophic - to humanity and all other living systems. Even 1.5C will create havoc.
The British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, could not resist using the backdrop of the Eternal City as an excuse for classical reference.
"Humanity, civilization, society can go backwards as well as forwards. When things start to go wrong they can go wrong at extraordinary speed. And you saw that with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. And I’m afraid to say it’s true today, that unless we get this right in tackling climate change we could see our civilisation, our world, also go backwards."
“Cop26 will be the world’s moment of truth. The question everyone is asking is whether we seize this moment or let it slip away. Together, we can mark the beginning of the end of climate change – and end the uncertainty once and for all.
“The countries most responsible for historic and present day emissions are not yet doing their fair share of the work. If we are going to prevent Cop26 from being a failure, then that must change and I must be clear, that if Glasgow fails then the whole thing fails. The Paris agreement will have crumpled at the first reckoning.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, I’m not going to pretend it’s other than it is. I think there’s a chance that we can make progress. Everybody can see how to do it. It’s a question of will and leadership.”
Charles, Prince of Wales chose metaphors from the Wild West in his address to the G20
“Quite literally, Cop26 is the last chance saloon. We must now translate fine words into still finer actions. As the enormity of the climate challenge dominates people’s conversations, from newsrooms to living rooms, and as the future of humanity and nature herself are at stake, it is surely time to set aside our differences and grasp this unique opportunity to launch a substantial green recovery by putting the global economy on a confident, sustainable trajectory and, thus, save our planet."
Pope Francis made a rare intervention into a debate he has been accused of ignoring.
“Climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic have exposed our deep vulnerability and raised numerous doubts and concerns about our economic systems and the way we organise our societies. These crises present us with the need to make radical decisions that are not always easy.
“We have lost our sense of security, and are experiencing a sense of powerlessness and loss of control over our lives. We find ourselves increasingly frail and even fearful. We can confront these crises by retreating into isolationism, protectionism and exploitation. Or we can see in them a real chance for change, a genuine moment of conversion, and not simply in a spiritual sense.
"The political decision makers who will meet a Cop26 in Glasgow are urgently summoned to provide effective responses to the present ecological crisis, and in. this way offer hope to future generations. (We require) a renewed sense of shared responsibility for our world, and an effective solidarity based on justice, a sense of our common destiny and a recognition of the unity of our human family in God’s plan for the world”.
The first words of the opening session were spoken by Yrsa Daley-Ward, the writer, actor and storyteller - reminding the world leaders in the hall of their responsibilities
David Attenborough's spirited yet unforgiving address was, of course, pitch-perfect. It was not a cry of despair but a call for urgent action, but one could sense despair snapping at his heels.
Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, is frequently accused of being an unimpressive speaker. His introductory address may have lacked rhetorical zest but its forthright presentation of the crisis we face was devastating and totally convincing.
To great effect, one young person from the streets (initially the streets of Kampala, the Ugandan capital) was given the opportunity to break through the glass wall of Cop26. Vanessa Nagate expressed the raw truth of our situation (and especially the situation of people in the global south) with clarity and conviction. No gloss, no fancy or fanciful prose, simply brutal fact after fact. Her address to world leaders and to the wider world should be etched on the minds of all the deniers,"realists" and entitled who are condemning the rest of us to untold misery.
Vanessa, along with her friend Greta Thunberg, has become a global celebrity - with all the advantages and dangers that brings. There may be ironies in the fact that Vanessa has graced the pages of UK Vogue twice this year, but they are balanced by the fact that her message reaches deeper into the culture, even into its shallows.
Nakate was cut out of an image taken at Davos with four other activists, LuisaNeubauer, Greta Thunberg, Isabelle Axelsson, and Loukina Tille January 2020. Bloomberg
Nakate’s own story as a climate activist began back in 2018, when she realised the impact that the climate crisis is already having in Uganda, which is being affected by extreme temperatures, as well as severe flooding. “In school, this is not something that is taught to us as our present reality,” she says. “The climate crisis threatens the availability of food; access to water. It threatens the education of children who could drop out of school because their parents can’t pay the school costs anymore. It threatens the livelihoods of girls who could be forced into early marriages.”
Inspired by Thunberg and the Fridays For Future movement, Nakate decided to take to the streets of Kampala with her hand-written placards, which often feature slogans such as “Climate Strike Now”, and, “We cannot eat coal… we cannot drink oil”. One particular issue she’s been campaigning against is the destruction of the Congo rainforest, which is the world’s second biggest rainforest but gets little attention in comparison to the Amazon.
“I remember one article that talked about how the Congo rainforest would be gone by 2100, if the world continues to keep silent about what’s going on,” she says.
But protesting is far more difficult for Nakate in Uganda than for many of her European and US-based counterparts. “It’s really not easy getting permits to do public protests in really big numbers,” the activist explains. “It’s also hard to walk out of school; you could be suspended or even expelled.”
At times, Nakate has found protesting to be an isolating experience, with the activist often protesting on the streets of Kampala by herself to begin with. “I started feeling like the climate strikes weren’t really changing anything. I began asking myself why [our] leaders continue to be silent, and yet disasters continue to take place and destroy people’s lives,” she recalls. “So I stopped striking for a while because I was feeling so frustrated and depressed and tired.”
In the end, it was the global community of activists that made her determined not to give up. “I started to look at the climate movement and see that I’m not just by myself,” Nakate says. ”Millions of other young people are speaking up and demanding climate justice. That is something that has really kept me doing [my] activism; this solidarity with other activists.”
As Nakate prepares to attend Cop26 next week, what does she hope will be achieved? “[I want] to see the leaders rise up for the people and for the planet, through their decisions [and] their actions,” she says. “We don’t want [them] to say you’re going to have net zero emissions and then construct an oil pipeline or open a coal plant. They need to walk their talk.” Climate justice, of course, is a primary concern. “I [want] to see climate finance, especially for loss and damage, being provided to communities that are on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” the activist adds.
As for what everyone else can do? “I really hope [my story] can inspire many people – especially in my country and across Africa – to believe in the power of their voices and actions; to know they can still do something that can change the world, regardless of who they are, regardless of where they come from,”
Nakate concludes. “All you need is a marker pen and a placard.”
A Bigger Picture: My Fight To Bring A New African Voice To The Climate Crisis
by Vanessa Nakate (Pan Macmillan) is out now.
A Bigger Picture: My Fight To Bring A New African Voice To The Climate Crisis
by Vanessa Nakate (Pan Macmillan)
is out now
The contrast is striking between the laser-like focus of Vanessa Nakate's address and the blustering rhetoric of Boris Johnson's. He was Prime Minister of the host nation to Cop26, with a worldview utterly different from the young woman from Kampala, or the ones in the nearby streets, frozen out of the debate. Many people like his expansive, if frequently unreliable, way of presenting his arguments. Many others find them confusing, contradictory and often way off the point --- as if he is too detached from the subject to fully care about his argument, or the need to maintain its consistency. As for choosing James Bond, as an emblematic Brit, to illustrate his case, this seems crass to the point of stupidity. Bond is as morally ambivalent a consumer (of both products and people) as ever drove an Aston Martin to work. In terms of his relevance to the climate and biodiversity crises I was shaken not stirred.
Revealingly, Boris (as we in Britain so affectionately - or ironically - call him) left Glasgow after this appearance to return to London. There, against the advice of wiser minds, he cooked up a corrupt and incompetent manipulation of the Westminster Parliament, which instantaneously blew up in his face. - to the outrage of his Conservative party and the amusement of everyone else. James Bond? No, surely Mr Bean, that other
icon of Britishness who has long entertained the world.
Here I make a significant digression from Cop26. But I think it is a useful one. Politicians have many, often contradictory, motives for what they do. They inhibit a moral universe that makes compromise essential and lies almost inevitable. Boris Johnson has built a career on mendacity and betrayal. But he is not unique. He is archetypal. Some of the people alongside him, in the G20 lineup that preceded Cop26, are many times worse.
Narendra Modi is communalist neocon who is deconstructing the democratic and egalitarian principals established by India's founders. And his political and economic priorities threaten the wellbeing of all but the top five per cent of India's billion people. Breathing the air in Modi's capital city is currently the equivalent of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. But he insists that the old and gas must burn on.
Scott Morrison is allowing the extraordinary paradise that is Australia to burn to the ground in the name of the same principals as the pioneers, plutocratics and bigots who have turned the USA into a broken society.
The worst offenders in this well populated rogues gallery, Messrs Putin and Xi, chose to decline their invitation
Can we trust Boris Johnson? is a question long ago answered in British politics. A majority of the British electorate acknowledge that he is a rascal, or worse, but they love him anyway, or at least enough to vote for him - although his most recent explosion of scandals appears to have thrown a shadow over that assumption. But can we trust him on the issues addressed at Cop26? Not at all. He and his entourage ceaselessly boast about greenhouse gas reductions based on massaged figures, pollution statistics that are some of the worst in Europe and biodiversity levels that are some of the worst in the world.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Boris Johnson's government denied fresh accusations of corruption on Sunday morning in the second scandal to hit the Conservative party in less than a week. But how much is too much for the British public?
Joanna York for France 24 7.11.2021
Voters in Britain awoke to fresh accusations of corruption against Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government Sunday morning as a newspaper investigation found donors to the Conservative Party had been offered seats in the House of Lords. The Sunday Times reported that 15 out of a total of 16 Conservative treasurers over the last two decades had donated more than £3 million to the party and then been offered a seat in parliament's upper chamber.
In response the government denied corruption claims for the second time in less than a week following what has been dubbed a “sleaze scandal” involving former Conservative MP for North Shropshire, Owen Paterson. Last week government watchdog the Parliamentary Commission for Standards found Paterson had repeatedly lobbied government and officials on behalf of two companies whom he was working for as a consultant for a fee of £100,000 a year.
While paid consultancy is allowed under government rules, the report found that Paterson’s actions on behalf of the two companies in parliament amounted to “paid advocacy”, with one of the companies, Randox, winning a Covid testing contract from the government worth £133 million.
The official report recommended Paterson be suspended from parliament for 30 days as a penalty, but in a highly unusual move, his fellow MPs in the Conservative Party refused the measure. Instead they organised a vote to overthrow the process for regulating parliamentary standards altogether, which a majority of MPs voted in favour of. The vote also vetoed Paterson’s suspension in advance of a new procedure being put in place, for which the MP told the BBC he was “grateful to the prime minister”.
The vote in parliament caused an outcry in political and media circles, with popular tabloid The Daily Mail publishing a headline saying MPs had “sunk back into sleaze”, and leader of the opposition party Keir Starmer publicly accusing the Conservatives of corruption in an article in The Guardian.
Then in a surprise U-turn one day later, the decision was reversed and Paterson was forced to resign. This might have been due to another form of external pressure changing minds among politicians, Professor Rob Ford, professor of political science at the University of Manchester, told FRANCE 24.
“MPs were saying I'm getting contacted by constituents and they're really hopping mad about this. We know that the public in Britain really don't like sleaze and corruption in their politicians.”
Justin Tallis / AFP
Former MP for North Shropshire Owen Paterson attending a conference in 2017. By playful coincidence, the ghostly figure behind Mr Paterson is Nigel Farage, one of the most significant figures in Britain's torturous journey into Brexit
Since he came to power in 2019, Boris Johnson and his government have been hit with a series of scandals that could have turned voters against him, but none seem to have caused irreparable damage so far.
This is down to a willingness from the public to give the government “the benefit of the doubt”, Ford says.
Accusations of mismanagement of the health crisis -- which has left the UK with one of the highest Covid death tolls in Europe with 142,000 Covid deaths so far -- could be put down to the exceptional circumstances. Ford adds that a successful vaccine rollout “really bailed the government out” in terms of public opinion.
Even Johnson’s verbal gaffes, including reportedly saying in October 2020 he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than have another lockdown, could be put down to the fact “he was exhausted, he was exasperated, he was frustrated”, says Ford. “People will relate to that.”
Other scandals such as Covid rule-breaking from government ministers and damning revelations from former advisor Dominic Cummings have also failed to land a body blow on the prime minister’s reputation. This is partly because they happen so frequently, Ford says. Leaping from crisis to crisis means that every time a scandal with the potential to sway public opinion happens, “something else comes along within a few days that takes the whole conversation into a different space. We can't keep talking about the same issue for long enough to understand it”.
However, this might also add to a cumulative effect that leads voters to lose faith in a party over time. While individual sleaze scandals are unlikely to have a large impact on the electorate, Ford says there can be a “cumulative effect of scandal, on scandal, on scandal. That gets around the attention issue because it does gradually seep into the public consciousness”.
This is territory the prime minister and his government may now be straying into. Recent investigations into his finances have included reports Conservative donors helped Johnson pay for a flat renovation costing up to £200,000 -- infamously including “£840-per-roll” gold wallpaper chosen by his wife Carrie Johnson.
On November 5 the prime minister was once again reported to the parliamentary standards committee for refusing to disclose the cost of a holiday that he and his family took over summer in a Spanish villa owned by the family of Conservative peer Zach Goldsmith. Then last week his government seemed to be excusing an MP for profiting from lobbying and attempting to dismantle the parliamentary standards committee in the process.
Fresh claims of corruption on Sunday morning will not help his case, and once the electorate perceive a government -- or a politician -- to be sleazy, the damage can be significant. The public may be able to excuse incompetence, but corruption is a harder charge to forgive, especially when those accused refuse to apologise.
In Paterson’s case, he maintained in his resignation statement that he was “totally innocent” of any wrongdoing, despite having been found to be in the wrong.Johnson may have more leeway: he is, as Ford says, the “kind of politician that doesn't play by the rules so voters factor in a certain level of bad behaviour. That makes it harder to make this kind of thing to stick -- it's not like anyone who voted for Johnson in 2019 would be shocked and appalled to discover that he was a bit dodgy”.
But it is unlikely Johnson's luck will last forever. Following this morning’s revelations, the prime minister’s personal approval rating has fallen to its lowest level on record, according to an opinion poll for the Observer newspaper. Meanwhile Conservative's lead over Labour has fallen to a single percentage point.
The UK does not have to hold another general election until 2024, but evidence of just how damaging these latest scandals have been may show up in local elections and by-elections before then. If the Conservatives start losing safe seats it could be a sign that voters have had enough.
It is impossible to predict exactly when public opinion may turn on a governing party but, Ford says, “certainly repeated sleaze scandals like this will hasten the arrival of that point, if nothing else”.
Now, as they used to say, for something completely different. Barbados is a tiny island in the eastern Caribbean. It 461sq km in area, which makes just over one tenth the size of Greater London. With a population just below 300,000 it is one of the most densely populated small islands in the world. In Mia Mottley it has Prime MInister with the charisma and reputation big enough for a continent - a reputation enhanced by her presence at Cop26.
Just listen to this!
Yet was a real surprise to discover that Mia Mottley has also leapt out of the pages of British Vogue. I had heard that Edward Enninful had shaken things up as editor at Vogue, and now as editorial director. But this is shaking things up like an earthquake - without the breakage.
(And it makes me think my earlier crack about "shallows" wasn't so clever.)
By Gary Younge
To hear her Caribbean lilt or witness her open, effortless, gap-toothed smile, you wouldn’t know it, but Mia Amor Mottley, the first female Prime Minister of Barbados, is a woman in a hurry.
“There’ve been seven prime ministers before me, and three have died in office,” says the 55-year-old with her trademark directness, the mid-morning sun peeking in through the slatted windows of her office in Ilaro Court, the palatial 1920s-built house that serves as the official residence for all Barbadian premiers. A cock crows occasionally in the background, from the expansive gardens outside. In a country the size of Barbados (smaller than the Isle of Man with a population roughly that of Newcastle), leaders end up carrying much of the load themselves, she explains. “So I’m in a job where the mortality rate is one in two. Those were the odds foisted on me, and it’s up to me to beat them,” she says, laughing.
And so she leads her government like a transformational steam train. Barbados is unused to change, but a little more than three years into the job, Mottley has announced plans to make same-sex civil unions legal and to hold a referendum on same-sex marriage, has set a bold immigration bill in motion, and is opening diplomatic missions in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. For Mottley, it is a case of tearing down the old ways to rebuild a country with ambitions for global renown.
Nothing better symbolises that vision than her plan to turn Barbados into a republic by the end of the year. In her most historic act of governance, she will be responsible for realising the country’s long-held desire to remove the Queen as head of state, and replace her with a Barbadian citizen.
“The one luxury I don’t have is to remain static,” she says in the melodic, leisurely timbre unique to the island. “I know that when you have power, when you have access to make a difference in people’s lives, you need to do it. It’s not easy, and it’s certainly not for the faint-hearted or the lazy, because what we’re trying to do is to give people a different sense of themselves and who they are.”
It is a powerful statement, but it is not driven by animosity towards the royal family. “I think that first of all, it’s about accepting responsibility for who we are, and that the buck stops here,” she explains. “I have a strong and healthy relationship with the royal family, in particular Prince Charles, who I believe is truly a man beyond and ahead of his time when it comes to understanding the environment. Our determination to become a republic is not about a rejection of them personally. It is an assertion that it must be available to every Barbadian boy and girl to aspire to be the head of state of this nation. It is not just legal, it’s also symbolic as to who or what we can become globally.”
Other Caribbean nations, such as Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana, have already taken this step, and Jamaica appears poised to follow. But for Barbados, affectionately, at times mockingly, described as “Little England” for its proud and proper ways seen by others in the region as haughty, becoming a republic seems like a more significant
It has been a long time coming. When I visited Barbados in 1999, its capital, Bridgetown, still had a statue of Nelson (erected before London’s) in its own Trafalgar Square. To his left stood the Houses of Parliament and opposite Prince William Henry Street, all of which, along with the Kensington Oval – the national cricket stadium – are still there.
I met Mottley for the first time on that trip, when she was minister for education, youth affairs and culture. She has not changed much – a chatty, plain-spoken and fiercely smart woman who cherishes her reputation as the “rock star” of the Caribbean political scene. (Her critics claim she is a one-woman band, constantly mopping up messes made by less accomplished members of her cabinet.) “I had no grey hair then,” she jokes, the soft Afro that frames her full, unfurrowed face revealing flashes of salt among the pepper. We met shortly before the first anniversary of Emancipation Day, a new national holiday, and the renaming of Trafalgar Square as National Heroes Square. There was already talk of removing Nelson’s statue, and a commission had been set up to determine where to put it.
“There is an assertion of Caribbean identity,” she told me at the time. “We are moving into a second generation of those who were born after independence. We now know what it is to determine our own fate, and there is a new confidence that is reflected in everything from our music to our school curriculums.”
We are now into a third generation of those born after independence, in 1966 – although Nelson was moved to the Barbados Museum only last November. “History, very often, regrettably, doesn’t move in a straight line,” she says. “We’re still moving in the same trajectory, but we haven’t been able to do it in a linear form.”
One reason she has been able to shift the dial is that her government was elected in 2018 with a substantial majority. To change the country’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority; Mottley’s Labour Party won all 30 parliamentary seats, and 73 per cent of the popular vote.
She also feels uniquely positioned to do so. Born just one year before independence to a politically influential family – her grandfather was mayor of Bridgetown, and her father was consul-general in New York – she says she’s always felt as though she’s been a “bridge”. “I came to public life at a very early age,” she says, “I am probably the last prime minister who will have known every prime minister from the first one to take us into independence, right down to myself, the seven that went before me. The generational divide is real. It’s not speculative.”
By whatever criteria you choose, India is very, very big and Barbados is very, very small. Its population of 1.38 billion is close to that of China, at 1.4 billion. India is currently the fourth largest energy consumer in the world and predicted to be the third largest by 2030. So when the Prime Minister of Barbados speaks we can be impressed with her eloquence and conviction, but when the Prime Minister of India speaks we know that every decision he makes could have a direct impact on the world's future. His message to Cop 24 was mixed - with some surprising gestures towards less reliance on fossil fuels but with a timetable that is frightening in its implications. What Greta Thunberg would refer to as "business as usual".
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed Cop26 in Hindi. Below are two distillations in English of what he said - one from an India source, the other from an American source.
Is this unfair? I too have reached the age where I nod off embarrassingly. And it is an affliction I have suffered from for a very long time. I have slept through some of the world's finest cinema and most wonderfully performed music. Once, thirty or more years ago, a researcher colleague watched with alarm as I fell asleep conducting an interview for television. The interviewee was amused, and we all agreed to blame jet lag. President Biden can claim the same excuse. But it is the metaphoric quality of this scene that so disturbs me. There is a sense that Joe Biden is often asleep at the wheel. The further sense that the entire rich world is in a sate of somnolent complacency, for all its fancy words.
I get no impression from the address that follows that the US President is fully engaged with what he is saying, let alone passionate about it. Of course, he often makes forceful statements about how vital it is that we address the catastrophe of biodiversity and climate change with urgency and conviction. But Boris Johnson says the same kind of thing. Do either of them really mean it - mean it enough to take the necessary decisions? And act?
Let's, for the sake of argument, and goodwill, take President Biden at his word. Let's agree that he is determined to do what is required to hold to the !.5C target. This piece from the BBC's North America Editor, written just after the Cop26 speech, while he was attached to the Presidential press corps, reveals just how high a mountain Joe Biden has to climb - without oxygen.
The limits on Biden's power
to help save the planet
JON SOPELL, BBC. Glasgow 1.11.2021
When Joe Biden took to the stage in Glasgow to deliver his speech to COP26, he made sure to underline one thing. Just as he did at his news conference last night in Rome at the G20, he wanted to set out his green credentials; American leadership on climate change. He can point to a gargantuan spending bill about to go before Congress, which has an eye-watering $555bn (£400bn) for clean energy credits and incentives. It will be the biggest investment in US history to tackle global warming.
But, but, but - this legislation hasn't yet been passed because he's not sure he's got the votes. One of the most significant proposals - a programme that would reward power companies for moving away from fossil fuels and penalise those who don't - was nixed by a Democratic senator from West Virginia coal country, Joe Manchin.
The failure to make progress on this legislation has been frustrating as hell for the White House, who wanted to have the measures passed before Air Force One arrived in Italy. It doesn't exactly give the president added leverage over his counterparts. How much moral force is there in saying "look what I would do, if I only had the votes..?"
There was something else in the Rome news conference which made my internal ironymeter hit 10, and it perfectly encapsulates the drag imposed on the US president's green ambitions. Whilst attempting to show his leadership on climate, Biden was at the same time trying to persuade the OPEC oil producers to increase production, so as to keep petrol prices down for US consumers. Drivers are up in arms that they're having to pay over $3 a gallon. Perhaps Biden should organise for them to visit a few British petrol stations to make Americans thank their lucky stars.The car is still king in the US.
The US is a country where there is an obsession about weather - and it gets a huge amount of it - tornadoes, polar vortexes, hurricanes, eviscerating heatwaves and on and on. But that is not matched by a similar interest in climate - even though the country has been experiencing the worst wildfires in history, flood-inducing hurricane seasons, freezing temperatures in Texas and on and on.
But this is where I want to widen the lens. What President Biden is contending with has its own variation for any number of world leaders who were in Rome and will be heading to Glasgow. There are parliaments, national assemblies and senates which won't back what their prime minister or president might want. There are electorates who might just punish the politician who pushes for measures that might threaten their jobs,
or increase fuel prices.
In the language that came out of the final communique from the G20 there was plenty of recognition of the urgency of keeping climate change to 1.5 degrees Celsius; of being "net-zero" by 2050. But the concrete measures to accompany the noble rhetoric? Well they were harder to find in the final document.
Maybe Glasgow will see the world's leaders stop behaving like politicians and embrace every measure that the climate activists are demanding. But for better or worse, they will be thinking about how easy the measures will be to sell, whether their country is being put at a competitive disadvantage, whether by adopting radical measures they are opting for self-extinction.
A real projection of US power rolled past me in Rome as Joe Biden's motorcade - complete with 85 vehicles - made its way to St Peter's Square. The US is still the most powerful country in the world - and the US president its most powerful man. But for all that might, he hasn't been able to strongarm one recalcitrant senator from West Virginia. And there'll be a lot weaker leaders than him in Glasgow over the next two weeks.
Another President. Another kind of President. I admired this address. I was moved by it. It is certainly one of the most impressive Cop26 performances I have come across - with a measured authority that stands out in the crowd. While always recognising that rare thing, a great man - whose kindness and empathic skills are as great as his thoughtfulness and intelligence - many of us true believers were disappointed by what Obama actually achieved in the White House. One reason must surely be because the job is beyond the impossible. Yet, if there is anyone who could stand in as the President of the World, at a time when we really seem to need one, it is this Kenyan Kansan Indonesian Hawaiian guy from Chicago. It would be really helpful if he stuck around for another 30 years or so and continued to tell it like it is, while helping to keep us motivated as things get
tougher and tougher.
Yes, I've got carried away. Time for a cold shower. Here it is...
Obama has a nerve preaching about the climate crisis
Kate Aronoff Glasgow, 6.11.2021
Hundreds of people thronged the corridors at Cop26 on Monday, trying to make it into an event in one of the Scottish Event Campus’s drab plenary rooms. Passing by, I asked a man in the crowd what all the commotion was for. He responded with one word: “Obama.” The former president still maintains his rock star-ish appeal. His speech proved the biggest draw of the conference so far. But what should we make of it in the cold light of day?
Much of his message was directed at young people, whom he praised as both “sophisticated consumers” and the source of the “most important energy in this movement”. He was clear: it’s up to all of us – but especially young people – to come together and keep the planet from warming beyond 1.5C.
“Collectively and individually we are still falling short” he said, in the kind of grand, sweeping tones that built his career. “We have not done nearly enough to address this crisis. We are going to have to do more. Whether that happens or not to a large degree is going to depend on you.”
Who precisely is “we” in this scenario? The young people who were children when Obama took office did not clear the way for a 750% explosion in crude oil exports, as he did just a few days after the Paris agreement was brokered in 2015. Nor did they boast proudly about it years later, as
ever-more research mounted about the dangers of continuing to invest in fossil fuels. Speaking at a Houston, Texas gala in 2018, the former president proudly took credit for booming US fossil fuel production. “Suddenly America is the largest oil producer. That was me people,” he boasted jokingly to an industry-friendly crowd. “Say thank you.”
The UN-backed 2021 Production Gap Report found that world governments are now on track to produce double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is compatible with keeping warming below 1.5C. Obama’s approach to boosting gas and renewables simultaneously, which he dubbed the “All of the above” doctrine, still appears to be a guiding principle of the Biden administration.
Young people also didn’t use the US Export-Import Bank to direct $34bn to 70 fossil fuel projects around the world. Neither did they deploy the National Security Administration to surveil other countries’ delegations at the climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009. And they have not joined other wealthy nations at the UN Framework Conventions on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks to keep conversations about the enormous climate debt they owe the rest of the world off the table.
Obama’s rhetoric mirrored the approach of the United States at countless climate talks. Where it tends to collapse the vast differences between and within countries, to avoid all but the most symbolic discussions of “common but differentiated responsibility”, as it says in the UNFCCC.
The global north is responsible for 92% of excess carbon dioxide emissions since the dawn of the industrial age. The United States alone is responsible for 40% of those – a fact its negotiators in Republican and Democratic administrations alike have long sought to obscure.
“If equity’s in,” said top Obama-era climate negotiator, Todd Stern, at climate talks in Durban, South Africa in 2011, “we’re out."
Obama speech day was also, less glamorously, loss and damage day. Climate-vulnerable countries continue to demand real financial commitments to support them rebuilding from the damages
that rising temperatures are already causing. His administration is one major reason why that’s been so difficult.
“There’s one thing that we don’t accept and won’t accept in this agreement,” Stern said while negotiating the Paris agreement in 2015, “and that is the notion that there should be liability and compensation for loss and damage. That’s a line that we can’t cross.”
Obama wants to continue to make lofty speeches, which are ultimately campaigning for a return to his version of business as usual – better than Trump but utterly ill-equipped to take on the climate crisis. And he can’t help but take a swings at the left.
“Don’t think you can ignore politics … You can’t be too pure for it,” he scolded. “It’s part of the process that is going to deliver all of us.”
Plenty of young people did get involved in electoral politics, of course. They knocked on doors and made phone calls for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. He enjoyed the support of 60% of voters under 30, partly for his commitment to a $16.3tn green new deal climate programme.
To hear Obama tell it, if enough people come together to raise awareness about the climate crisis and consume smartly, they will change enough hearts and minds to keep warming below 1.5C. That would be a lot easier if Obama, in his time as leader of the free world, hadn’t made the task so much harder for all those inspiring, passionate young people.
Kate Aronoff is a staff writer at The New Republic and a reporting fellow at the Climate Social ScienceNetwork. She is the author of Overheated: How Capitalism Broke The Planet – And How We Fight Back
More cold water. A critique from the streets.
In the second part of COP26 VOICES & VERDICTS the conversations get more heated. The cracks between rhetoric and delivery start to show. The voices are no longer mostly those of the powerful. The questions becomes more pressing. How much can Cop26 really achieve?
What will be its legacy?
The remarkable 15-year-old Vinisha Umashankar, Earthshot Prize Finalist
To be uploaded soon
Alok Sharma, President, COP26
UK among five rich nations jeopardizing
future with plans for fossil fuel expansion
The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Norway
"are condemning communities in the global south
to a state of perpetual crisis which they did nothing to create."
Kenny Stancil 12.11.2021
As the COP26 climate summit draws to a close following two weeks of talks and pledges in Glasgow, a new report details five wealthy nations' life-threatening plans to expand fossil fuel production, exposing the utter emptiness of their professed commitments to decarbonization:
"Coal, oil, and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030... Projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will... actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%."
Shedding light on the enormous gap between rhetoric and reality, the report, The Fossil Fuelled 5, compares governments' most recent emission reduction targets with their future energy plan.It reveals that, even as they refer to themselves as climate leaders, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Norway intend to approve and subsidize new fossil fuel projects that "will be in operation for decades to come."
Despite climate scientists' repeated warnings about the need to keep coal, oil and gas underground to have a fighting chance of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC above preindustrial levels by the end of the century, several of the world's wealthiest nations "are doubling down on fossil fuel production," says the report, which was assembled by Freddie Daley, a research associate at the University of Sussex, in collaboration with the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, along with key partners in each of the five countries analysed: Oil Change International, Uplift U.K., The Australia Institute, Stand.earth, and Greenpeace Norway.
"have disastrous impacts for all life on our planet," the report notes, "but especially those communities in the global south who have done the least to create this crisis and have the fewest resources to adapt to its impacts....
"Coal, oil, and gas production must fall globally by 69%, 31%, and 28% respectively between now and 2030 to keep the 1.5ºC target alive." Exemplifying how "net-zero" by mid-century promises "do not focus on the urgent need to stop production and consumption of fossil fuels in the immediate term," the report adds that over the course of this decade "projections suggest that the Fossil Fuelled 5 will reduce coal production by only 30%, and actually increase oil and gas production by 33% and 27%, respectively."
Many people had hoped that countries would respond to the coronavirus crisis by jumpstarting the renewable energy transition. Although they vowed to "build back better," the Fossil Fuelled 5 report states that the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada and Norway have provided "more than $150 billion to support the production and consumption of fossil fuels since the beginning of the
Covid-19 pandemic. This level of support from the Fossil Fuelled 5 is more than the entire G7 put towards clean energy as part of the pandemic recovery effort ($147 billion)."
"There's an alarming gap between what wealthy nations are saying and what they are doing," Daley said in a statement. "They seem to be quite content to make pledges and promises with one hand, while expanding and subsidizing fossil fuel production to the tune of billions on the other."
"Not only are these wealthy nations jeopardizing their own futures and the futures of their citizens through this continued expansion, but they are condemning communities in the global south to a state of perpetual crisis which they did nothing to create."
Country-specific findings from the report include:
The United States has pledged to halve emissions by 2030 yet has simultaneously provided $20 billion in annual support to the fossil fuel industry;
Despite hosting COP26, the United Kingdom is expected to greenlight the Cambo oil field, which contains approximately 255 million barrels of oil;
Despite its recent commitment to net-zero by 2050, Australia has over 100 fossil fuel projects currently in the approval pipeline;
Canada is looking to increase their price on carbon but also provided approximately $17 billion in public finance to three fossil fuel pipelines between 2018 and 2020; and
Norway has raised its ambition to decrease emissions but has already granted 60+ new licenses for fossil fuel production and access to 84 new exploration zones in 2021 alone.
Progressive advocates from all five countries denounced their respective governments for subsidizing planet-wrecking fossil fuels when the world is demanding a rapid and just transition to clean energy. The United States—which has planned to expand oil and gas production more than any other country between 2019 and 2030—was described by Collin Rees, U.S. program manager at Oil Change International, as "the poster child for climate hypocrisy. If we are to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis from becoming a reality, we must address the root of our collective problem: fossil fuels.
"The world's largest historical emitter [is] claiming the mantle of climate leadership while pouring fuel on the fire of the climate crisis. Joe Biden's words will ring hollow until he cancels deadly fossil fuel expansion projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline or the dozens of proposed oil and gas export terminals awaiting approval from his administration."
He added that "the U.S. remains a massive driver of oil and gas expansion, and that won't change until our leaders commit to a managed phase-out of fossil fuel extraction that truly protects communities, workers, and the climate."
The report continues that the U.S., U.K., Austalia, Canada, and Norway "have the responsibility and capacity to transition rapidly away from fossil fuels with limited impact to their own economies, and to support developing countries around the world to move away from fossil fuels, under timeframes and conditions that are fair, reasonable, and just. Instead, they are downplaying their historical responsibility for the climate crisis and effectively appropriating the limited remaining fossil fuels that can be produced before humanity breaches 1.5ºC."
One reason why wealthy signatories to the Paris agreement have been able to avoid scrutiny for "expanding fossil fuel production in the face of overwhelming evidence that they need to do the opposite" is because exported fossil fuels are not reflected in the producer country's domestic emissions, which is why the report calls them "the elephant in the room" that must be addressed.
While the countries that import fossil fuels are held responsible for those emissions on paper, the reality is that major coal, oil, and gas exporters are still exacerbating global greenhouse gas pollution and therefore undermining efforts to curb rising temperatures, "impacting the lives of billions alive today and those yet to be born."
"Together, the Fossil Fuelled 5 account for 25% of global fossil fuel exports. Nations such as Australia, Norway, and the United States continue to export huge amounts of coal, oil, and/or gas, essentially exporting their greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the continued fossil fuel dependence of many countries worldwide."
The report emphasises that "the principles of fairness and equity are vital for collective international action on climate," adding the following findings:
Wealthy countries failing to phase down fossil fuel production leave little incentive for developing nations, who are typically more dependent on the revenues and employment opportunities derived from fossil fuel production, to do the same.
Wealthy nations expanding fossil fuel production has a symbolic effect. Continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels, as well as supporting the fossil fuel industry through subsidies, implies that large-scale fossil fuel production is compatible with steep declines in emissions and essential to future prosperity, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
To "end the era of fossil fuels," the report urges the U.S., U.K., Australia, Canada, and Norway to:
Halt the licensing for further exploration and extraction of fossil fuels;
Commit to a timeline for domestic phase-out of fossil fuels in line with 1.5ºC, noting that wealthy countries can and should move first and should therefore exceed the average rates identified in the Production Gap Report of phasing out coal, oil and gas on average by 11%, 4% and 3% respectively each year;
End the support for fossil fuel production through subsidies, tax relief and other mechanisms of government support;
Join the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) to work with other ambitious governments to end fossil fuel production and fund a just transition for workers;
Act as first movers as part of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty; and
Redirect the vast financial support currently provided to fossil fuel industries towards helping developing countries shift away from a reliance on fossil fuel production and consumption.
The report concludes: "If we are to prevent the worst impacts of the climate crisis from becoming a reality, we must address the root of our collective problem: fossil fuels."
Trust Is Hard to Find at the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow
Young activists are right to doubt the pledges of governments, financial firms, and the fossil-fuel industry.
By Bill McKibben
November 9, 2021
As the second week of the COP26 United Nations global climate talks began in Glasgow on Monday, the Washington Post published a truly remarkable piece of reporting that will surely demoralize the hardworking people gathered in the convention hall trying to hammer out an agreement. A team led by the Post’sveteran climate analyst Chris Mooney went through the emissions data proffered by countries at the summit, and found that they were in many cases wildly wrong. Malaysia, for instance, claimed that its forests are sucking up so much carbon that its net emissions are smaller than tiny Belgium’s—even though most researchers are convinced that clearing peatlands for palm-oil plantations, as Malaysia has been doing, is the very definition of a carbon bomb. The Central African Republic reported that its land absorbs 1.8 billion tons of carbon a year; the Post termed it “an immense and improbable amount that would effectively offset the annual emissions of Russia.” The worst-case scenario: the emissions data could be off by twenty-three per cent over all, or roughly the equivalent of China’s emissions.
That’s the kind of thing that can undercut whatever confidence the U.N. negotiators are trying to build. Barack Obama spoke at the conference on Monday, telling young people (many of whom are complaining that they can’t get inside the hall) that “you’ve grown up watching many of the adults who are in positions to do something about it either act like the problem doesn’t exist or refuse to make the hard decisions necessary to address it.” But, just three years ago, Obama was in Houston, telling a very different crowd, at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, “I know we’re in oil country and we need American energy.” He then said that oil and gas production “went up every year I was President,” adding, “Suddenly, America’s like the biggest oil producer and the biggest gas—that was me, people.” Indeed, although the United States cut carbon emissions during Obama’s years in office, it happened mainly because of his aggressive backing of natural-gas fracking—and the increased methane emissions that came with the switch may have left the nation warming the planet just as much as before. (Methane features prominently in the Post’s analysis.)
Meanwhile, in a press release issued last week, the government of the United Kingdom, which is hosting the summit, initially claimed that a hundred and ninety nations and organizations represented there had joined in a breakthrough pledge to phase out coal and stop investing in new coal-power projects. But, as Agence France-Presse’s Patrick Galey pointed out, by the time the list of nations was published, only twenty-three had announced new plans to abstain from coal, and ten of them don’t even burn coal. Together, he found, the twenty-three nations account for just thirteen per cent of the world’s coal use. China, Russia, the United States, and Australia aren’t on the list. As the headline to an article by Galey politely put it, a “chasm” has opened between “COP26 words and climate action.”
And, if you think that climate watchers don’t trust governments, you can imagine how they feel about the big financial institutions that are also playing a starring role at the conference. Last week, the C.E.O. of Bank of America, Brian Moynihan, was airily assuring the Wall Street Journal that the transition to renewable energy won’t be too hard. “If there’s a revenue stream, then the funding is infinite,” he said. But, according to a report on Monday from the London Times, a consortium of financial institutions, including Bank of America, has been doing its best behind the scenes to slow down implementation plans for the Net-Zero Banking Alliance, which was launched earlier this year and has already come under fire, because its members are free to keep lending to fossil-fuel companies. The mistrust is so deep that each new initiative gets written off by activists as soon as it’s announced. As the Stanford energy expert Jeffrey Ball wrote in an Op-Ed for the Times on Tuesday, “The deep-pocketed players must be pressed to put their money where their mouths are—and, crucially, to disclose enough information about their spending that outsiders can assess the legitimacy and effectiveness of their efforts.” (By now, of course, almost no one trusts the fossil-fuel industry, as companies have been deceiving the public about climate change since the nineteen-eighties, but that doesn’t mean its power is broken: according to Global Witness, the hydrocarbon players are represented by five hundred lobbyists at the conference—a larger delegation than any country brought.)
Any rapid progress on climate change depends on countries having confidence in one another, because the risk that some will try to “free ride”—letting others do the work while they stay the course and still reap the benefit of a cooler world—has been there from the start. Purity is obviously impossible in politics. (Even now, Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, is reportedly close to getting yet more subsidies for coal-power plants into the Build Back Better bill—and, according to Mother Jones, trying to decide on the best moment to present his first book proposal.) But the level of impurity is currently so high that the negotiating process is on the edge of breaking down—even as the falling cost of solar and wind energy means that the job of rewiring the planet is actually far easier than it appeared six years ago, at the Paris climate summit. Fatih Birol, the head of the International Energy Agency, claimed that new pledges at Glasgow put the world on a path toward a temperature rise of 1.8 degrees Celsius—which would be great progress, but, as he put it, that progress will be possible only if all the pledges are “fully achieved.”
It’s not clear who exactly is supposed to level this mountain of bad faith. Greta Thunberg, the eighteen-year-old Swedish climate campaigner, may be the most honest broker left, and, though she wasn’t formally invited to speak in the hall, her voice has been loud on the streets of Glasgow. “That is not leadership—this is leadership,” she said last week, gesturing to her fellow youth activists. The rise of illiberal leaders around the world means that too many governments are beyond their reach: India’s equivalent of Thunberg, Disha Ravi, an activist in her early twenties, was arrested earlier this year, and, in China, Ou Hongyi, who is also just eighteen, has been called in for questioning by the police. But the big pools of capital—the great banks of New York and London, the giant pension funds of the West—are within the reach of young activists, so retail branches and brokerage houses may make for more promising targets than governments. It seems likely that, as the Glasgow summit concludes, that’s where they will turn their attention in a last-ditch effort to hold someone actually accountable for wrecking the planet.