Debating the outcome of COP26 | By Dr Muhammad Khan


Debating the outcome of COP26

A lot was expected from the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference; COP26 held in Glasgow on 31 Oct-12 Nov.

The high expectations were anticipated since US President Joe Biden reversed the executive orders of former President Donald Trump, which dismantled the environmental protections and climate change policies of the United States at home and abroad.

On the very first day of his Presidency, President Biden signed the orders for the return of US to the Paris Agreement. Later, he convened two-day Leaders’ Summit on Climate on April 22 and 23.

The Summit on climate change underscored the urgency, world needs to take action over climate change and environmental degradation and it was to serve as a precursor to COP26.

The agenda of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) was “To bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.”

In the light of its mandate, COP26 was to be a historical conference to assess the threat of climate change at global level and take speedy measures to save the world from impending disastrous, emanating from the industrial states; the Global North.

Nevertheless, as per the environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg, no concrete measures were taken during the COP26 climate conference, declaring it as; “blah, blah, blah”.

Indeed, despite almost two weeks of the conference, “a huge amount of work remained to be done.” Thunberg said that we, the environmentalists will never give since the “real work continues outside these halls.”

Even the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned of an impending “climate catastrophe” in the absence of meaningful measures by the rich countries.

He too pointed out the shortcomings of the agreement on climate change at the conclusion of COP26.

Rather taking strict measures to safeguard against climate change, the COP26 was largely a compromise based on the vested interests, of major powers; the industrially rich countries, responsible for manmade climate change.

Indeed, there are contradictions in their statements and actions, since the political will was found wanting for an effective and workable implementation strategy.

Antonio Guterres warned that “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread and we are still knocking on the door of climate catastrophe.”

The environmentalist denounced the format of the COP26 and declared that “world leaders had failed to match their words with real action.”

Some states like China and India insisted that language on fossil fuels be weakened in the final summit decision text whereas, the Australian government vowed to continue selling the coal; in a way adding to environmental degradation.

The climate change is driven by global warming which in turn is a result of large scale human activities and emissions of greenhouse gases which cause large-scale shifts in weather patterns.

It also include burning of huge fossil fuels and removal of forests which cause rapid increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere.

As per the data compiled by the International Energy Agency, the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are caused by the burning of coal, natural gas, oil and other fuels, including industrial waste and non-renewable municipal waste.

As per this estimate, China, United States and India are top three industrial states which emit maximum CO2 into the atmosphere at global level. The percentage of the top three CO2 emitters is: China-28%, United States-15% and India-7%.

As per annual worldwide threat assessment report issued by US intelligence agencies on April 8, 2021, the world may face serious security challenges emanating from climate change and environmental degradation.

As per this report, there will be extreme weather conditions emerging from the climate change on short-term basis.

Such a weather condition will cause migrations and instability all around the globe. This will further “exacerbate political instability and humanitarian crisis” at global level.

The rapid climate change taking place globally will greatly enhance instability at the level of state(s), regionally and at global level.

Besides encouraging social and political movements there will be strains on the military readiness owing to climate change.

The economically poor countries are likely to be hit more as compared to the rich industrial countries whose share is more towards climate change and environmental degradation.

In South Asia, India has emerged as the top most emitter of the CO2, polluting the entire environment of the region.

According to global estimates, today India emits over 3 gigatonnes (Gt) CO2 of greenhouse gases annually. It estimates as two and a half tons per individual, which is half the global average.

As mentioned above, India emits 7% of global emissions as the third largest in the world having coal as the main source of greenhouse gas emission. India is both a major greenhouse gas emitter and one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to project climate change.

As compared to India, Pakistan has greatly contributed to reduce the impact of global climate change through a number of indigenous measures.

These Pakistani innovative measures have been appreciated worldwide including the Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change-2021. Pakistan was selected among the top ten leaders addressing the climate action by United Nations.

The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia are following the footsteps of Pakistan by launching similar initiatives. Pakistan has launched 10 billion tree plantation drive known as Billion Tree Tsunami Project.

COP26 was a major step forward on climate change, since a lot was debated theoretically during the conference.

But, practically, a lot is needed to be done in the coming years first to freeze the current status of climate change and subsequently bringing practical steps to secure the world from the hazards of climate change.

Despite its short comings, the COP26 was an optimistic beginning to formulate practical and attainable global strategies for reducing the impacts of global climate change.

The major industrial states need to realize their fundamental responsibilities towards devastating results of climate change.

— The writer is Professor of Politics and IR at International Islamic University, Islamabad.

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