The U.N. summit in Glasgow concluded last weekend with a new climate agreement among nearly 200 countries that drew applause from world leaders in attendance.
But they should be embarrassed patting themselves on the back over something so inadequate.
Case in point: The Glasgow pact for the first time in more than 25 years of negotiations makes explicit reference to the fossil fuels that are causing climate change. But it calls only for a “phasedown of unabated coal” — language that was supposed to read “phase-out” until it was weakened at the last minute by India.
Is this really what our leaders were celebrating?
That’s not to say the conference was a total bust. Leading up to the summit, more than 150 countries submitted new or updated climate pledges. And leaders now plan to “revisit and strengthen” their climate pledges by the end of next year.
Rich countries that are responsible for most of the planet-warming emissions in the atmosphere still failed to come through for vulnerable low-lying island nations and developing countries that are paying the price.
The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times, and the stated goal of the Glasgow conference was to instigate enough action to keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees and prevent truly dangerous levels of climate disruption. That’s still possible, and we have a better chance than before. But it’s not looking good.
The array of new climate pledges, if ultimately delivered on, would shave a fraction of a degree off the warming expected by the end of the century, and that’s not enough to avoid calamity. The earth is still on track to heat up by well over 2 degrees, and suffer disastrous impacts, unless countries cut pollution in half by 2030.
We delude ourselves if we think that climate change can be solved at a conference. There is no way to force any country to deliver on its promises. The process set up by the 2015 Paris accord relies on naming and shaming countries that fail to deliver on their promises. If anything, Glasgow, like conferences before it, highlighted the chasm between world leaders’ pledges and their actions.
Whether their promises are realized ultimately comes down to domestic policy. We must demand our representatives enact tough climate policies at the national, state and local level at every opportunity, or replace them with leaders who will. Because our lives depend on it.