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COP26 lofty talk is mugged by material self-interests

Academics’ open letter deemed the much trumpeted Glasgow summit was a ‘failure’


UN Secretary General António Guterres. Photo: Michael Tewelde/via Getty

UN Secretary General António Guterres. Photo: Michael Tewelde/via Getty

UN Secretary General António Guterres. Photo: Michael Tewelde/via Getty

Earlier this week at COP26, former US President Barack Obama urged young people to “stay angry” in the fight against climate change. On the last day of what was billed as our last opportunity to do something meaningful to rescue our planet, the lamentable efforts of global leaders can only have further fuelled their fury.

The planet’s rising temperatures, sea levels, droughts and threats of famine have said all that needed to be said. Radical action was required. Not the tepid commitments and scaling back from the high-blown hopes.

The response from more than 200 academics, who signed an open letter, was that the Glasgow summit was a “failure”. They say corporate interests were over-represented.

The “real green revolution” needed to halt greenhouse gas emissions, regenerate nature and adapt to the realities of the worsening climate crisis is sadly still awaited.

The commitments from governments to stop global average temperatures to rising 1.5C above what they were in the pre-industrial era seem insufficient.

Most damning of all, they argued the level of business interests represented at the summit amounted to “corporate capture”. The conference, they conclude, was undermined.

The softening of resolve to end all use of coal and phase out fossil fuel subsidies completely was clearly disappointing. Just as the arguments over how much money rich nations owe poorer ones for contaminating Earth’s atmosphere were depressing.

But haggling over how often to report their greenhouse gas emissions to the UN was downright disgraceful by governments in the last chance saloon as the clock ticks down.

Given past experience, expectations of delivering the sweeping deal demanded were arguably too high. Past promises on climate change and declarations should have prepared us for the yawning chasm between intention and implementation.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres had set the bar for world leaders to make progress.

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What must be done, he said, was to find a way to move the world closer to cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. But such a goal seems highly unlikely.

“The announcements here in Glasgow are encouraging – but they are far from enough,” a deflated Mr Guterres said.

If Glasgow will be remembered for anything it may be for the fact the world’s two biggest emitters – the United States and China – banded together to declare their joint commitment to reach a deal. Time will tell,

After all the lofty talk, the poetry of the prime ministers’ and presidents’ speeches of the opening days was brought down to earth with a bang in the flat prose of technical groups. The opportunity to do something meaningful was mugged as material self-interests asserted themselves.

And what might have been a showcase for the spirit of global solidarity was reduced to another well-intentioned grand pageant.