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COP26: a Changemaker’s View

Introduction by Christine Loh

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and reactions to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. What follows is a selection of their responses.

You can read their full interview responses by clicking on the following names: Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, Zanagee Artis, Ann Marie Chischilly, Natalie Chung Sum Yue, James Cromwell, Myrna Cunningham, Aminatu Gambo, Christina Henriksen, Isaias Hernandez, Aryaana Khan, Makaśa Looking Horse, Michael Mann, Dominique Palmer, Davis Reuben Sekamwa, Jini Reddy, Mya-Rose Craig, Mayumi Sato, Rodion Sulyandziga and Maia Wikler.

When world leaders gathered at COP15 in Copenhagen (2009) they were unable to agree on a new climate change treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol because developed economies wanted to apply a legalistic approach, whereas developing countries wanted assistance so they could develop and deal with climate change at the same time.

After all, historical emissions were emitted by the advanced economies in Europe and North America that industrialised early. To avert abject failure, the Copenhagen Accord was agreed as a holding position to keep negotiating.

COP21 in Paris (2015) was a success because it allowed countries to propose their own actions according to their capabilities, even though it was acknowledged that the pledges did not amount to what it would take to avert climate risks. The Paris Agreement had a mechanism of hope that committed every signatory to ratchet up their pledges every five years so that countries could do more in the future once they got the hang of what needed to be done. The agreement has provisions to transfer technologies and funding from rich to poor countries.

Now we are at COP26, which was delayed by a year because of the pandemic. The promised funds have not been made available. Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and the latest science, as per the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, released in August, shows the truly dire consequences of a fast-warming world. Extreme weather events (see page 30) are affecting rich and poor countries alike, and even the rich world is finding it hard to cope.

The most pressing issue is whether the countries of the world can set aside their political differences to face an existential threat together. Leaders do understand climate change is a threat to all. The question is whether they can stop themselves from being swept along by ideological conflicts and cooperate. The pandemic has made it more difficult for the developed economies to be generous with sharing their wealth and capabilities with developing economies, but wisdom should tell them that is what is needed.

Also, let’s not forget there is the UN Biodiversity Conference which takes place this year in Kunming, China (see page 108). Decarbonisation alone is not sufficient. We must also revive our degraded ecosystems and biodiversity. Kunming happens just before Glasgow and it, too, needs to succeed.

The world has committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, with many countries pledging to get there by 2050. This is our date with destiny. Net zero represents a revolution in every sense - politics, technology, industries, management, administration, socio-economic, and financial. To succeed, Glasgow needs mutual understanding between the vastly different circumstances of the developed and developing world, and a commitment to cooperation.

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