No greenwash and no fudges: Cop26’s success depends on leaders telling the truth | Ed Miliband
The defining choice facing leaders in Glasgow this week at Cop26 is to embrace reality or be honest about the climate emergency, and demand the action that will be necessary to address it. If we are to have any chance of avoiding disaster, we must choose truth and frankness.
The most important truth is mathematics. For all the millions of words spread over this summit, not enough has been done to clarify its central task. Many leaders say we need to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, but few are saying out loud what that means.
We know from the UN figures that after the Paris agreement of 2015, the world was heading towards something like 53 billion tonnes of emissions in 2030. To keep global warming at a level of 1.5 ° C, we need to reduce emissions to 25 billion tonnes by then. There is an emissions gap of 28 billion tonnes to be reduced during this decisive decade. These numbers should be on the minds of anyone who cares about the future of our planet.
The world has made great strides in recent years. But the sad reality is that the promises made before Cop26 represent a reduction of only 4 billion tonnes. This leaves a painful emissions gap in which a climate catastrophe would occur – putting us on track to reach a devastating 2.7 ° C. This calculation matters more than anything and should shape our response to what countries are announcing in Glasgow. According to the respected Climate action monitoring, no G20 country is doing enough.
It will be in the interests of leaders and ministers at Cop26 to claim that more progress has been made than reality. Since we cannot negotiate with science, we must force them – especially those who came to Glasgow only to warm up old commitments – to face the truth and negotiate with each other. This summit cannot be the fifteen-day fiesta of prepackaged ads; it has to be a real calculation to make the progress we need.
Within this framework, leaders must do justice to those in the poorest countries who are the least responsible and most vulnerable to climate degradation. It’s time to deliver on the promises that have been accumulated, but not kept – especially the long overdue $ 100 billion in funding that has been promised for developing countries in 2009, and the Prime Minister’s commitment to the G7 in June to “vaccinate the world” against Covid. It is essential that we also recognize the loss and damage that many poor and developing countries face as a result of climate degradation. This is the way to help rebuild the coalition we saw in Paris between the most vulnerable developing countries and ambitious developed countries, to maximize the pressure on the world’s biggest emitters, including China.
We must also avoid the attempt to move science targets to Glasgow, which has crept into the UK government’s benchmark of success for these talks. It is positive that countries representing 80% of global GDP are now covered by a net zero target for the middle of the century, but aims for three decades in the future don’t make up for your inability to act now.
No country can be allowed to think that setting long-term goals gives them an alibi for not acting in the short term. Take Australia, for example, whose 2050 net zero target, announced last week, is accompanied by a 2030 target which puts us on the right track for a 4C world. Or Saudi Arabia, which is considering a target of 2060, while also planning to increase its oil production during this decade. We cannot tolerate such global greenwashing at this top of our country or anyone else.
Telling these truths is not without its risks. Some people will fear that any admission of failure in Glasgow will give the world and private investors a reason to give up on their climate ambitions. Numerous of us remember the shadow cast after the 2009 cop in copenhagen, when the summit crash landed without a comprehensive deal. You can’t afford the same hangover no matter what the outcome in Glasgow. The world has gone too far for this to happen. But that cannot be a reason to claim that the progress is fast enough if the reality is different.
This is because the inescapable truth is that with the climate crisis, unlike so many other issues, winning slowly is not really winning. In this existential race against time, winning slowly means billions of people face extreme heat waves, countless millions more displaced, and the destruction of natural wonders like our coral reefs. It also means forgoing the opportunities offered by climate action, such as lifting people out of poverty by creating millions of good green jobs.
The truth counts both for the results of the Cop26 but also for what happens afterwards. The world should not come back to the issue of country-by-country commitments before the next Cop26 in 2025. If we follow this path, we will lose 1.5C. We will have to come back much sooner to close the gap we face if we are to create a 1.5 degree compatible path out of Glasgow.
We are all desperate for success over the next fortnight. But as this crucial summit approaches, those of us who are not in government have a power that those in power will find it difficult to fully embrace: the power to tell the truth about our progress during this decisive decade. , as uncomfortable as it may be.
Playing our part to get the right result means using that power without hesitation over the next two vital weeks.