Time to turn hot air into action


Organisers estimate more than 100,000 people braved the driving rain in Glasgow to shout for climate justice on Saturday. 

At a rally in George Square, youth activist Vanessa Nakate recalled how strong storms had seriously damaged a school she helped to build in her home country Uganda. 

“The strong winds and heavy rainfall will not stop, because the words and promises of leaders do not match their actions,” she said, as reported by the BBC

Week one of the talks saw a lot of big numbers – numbers that could, in theory, bend the temperature curve below 2C. 

But that depends on long term ambition being turned into short term targets and short term targets being turned into national policies. It’s still all to prove. 

Meanwhile negotiators were busy trying to tie up the loose ends of the Paris Agreement. The text drafted in Glasgow, technical and jargon-filled as it is, can influences the level of action in the real world. 

Government ministers arriving this week face a dual challenge. They must finally land an elusive deal on the most contentious parts of the Paris Agreement rulebook. And they need to convince an angry and sceptical public this will truly lead to action, not more hot air. 

“The mood among developing countries is sour. Rather than talking across the negotiating table with countries that have travelled thousands of miles to be here, rich countries seem happier briefing the media,” said Power Shift Africa’s Mohamed Adow. “This needs to change if the second week of Cop26 is not going to end badly.” 

An informal document published by the presidency on Sunday outlined potential elements of a Glasgow pact. These included expecting countries that have yet to submit more ambitious 2030 climate targets to the UN to do it in 2022. 

That wording would require Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Saudi Arabia to go further, in the judgement of WRI’s David Waskow. Others that have only minimally strengthened ambition like China and Russia could get away with their existing plans. 

There was no specific mention of making sure signatories to last week’s statements on methane and forests embedded those targets in national plans – an obvious way to lock in progress. 

“It is clear that they have tried to reflect a lot of the elements that came up,” Waskow said on a press briefing, but the Cop presidency “have not fully pushed the envelope”. 

Any weak language reflects the fact that many countries are not willing to accelerate action. Greenpeace called out Saudi Arabia for trying to block any kind of big picture declaration. 

“It’s smart, strategic and utterly cynical,” said Greenpeace International’s Jennifer Morgan. “Other governments now need to isolate the Saudi delegation if they want this Cop to succeed for everyone, not just fossil fuel interests.” 

It is not only the campaigners’ number one villain resisting strong language, though. Xie Zhenhua reminded the BBC last week China does not accept 1.5C as the main temperature target. 

“If we only focus on 1.5, we are destroying consensus and many countries would demand a reopening of the negotiations,” he said. 

The Cop26 presidency is expected to assign two ministers, one from a developed country and one from a developing country, to broker deals on each strand of the negotiations. Look out for our profile of the key players when that list drops.

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