Climate action pretense at COP26

Joe Biden’s presence at COP26 was a photo opportunity meant to give the impression that he is fighting the climate crisis. But the U.S. and other governments continue carbon production while pretending to take action.

The 26th Conference of the Parties, COP26, climate summit ended with its president fighting back tears. Alok Sharma came to Glasgow, Scotland, hoping for an agreement to end the extraction of coal. Instead he said this, “I apologize for the way this process has unfolded. I am deeply sorry.”

The international climate conferences are a perennial disappointment to anyone who understands the depth of the worldwide catastrophe. Every year the rich capitalist nations find a way to undermine the process and consign millions of people to misery and devastation. Activists from all over the world gather in an effort to have an impact on the process, but they are literally outnumbered by fossil fuel lobbyists who always get what they want.

This conference ended with an agreement to “phase down” the use of coal instead of phasing it out altogether. Phasing down is deliberately ambiguous and makes a mockery of the 2015 Paris meeting which ended with an agreement to allow a temperature increase of no more than 1.5˚C. The fact that climate agreements allow world temperatures to rise is but one indication that the process falls far short from what the world needs.

Yet the seemingly small 1.5˚C will have devastating consequences, with droughts and storms bringing catastrophe to millions of people. The can is always kicked down the road and the final agreement is a sham.

The political duopoly in the United States behaves as it always does with phony heroes and phony villains as in professional wrestling. Republicans refuse to participate in climate agreements, Democrats show up for the cameras, but only to fool the rubes into thinking that something important is being accomplished.

It doesn’t matter if Democrats show up at COP26 if they refuse to respond to elephants in the room. The United States military is the world’s biggest polluter but its carbon production, and that of other nations’ forces, are exempt from climate goals. When a journalist asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders about military spending and its role in climate change, it was clear they had never considered the issue at all. They were shocked to be asked a question which showed a direct relationship between their actions and global warming and then responded with nonsense. They said the military, which contributes to climate change, needs money to respond to the climate change it causes by its very existence. Why does it matter that George W. Bush and Donald Trump withdrew from previous climate agreements if Democrats follow in their footsteps and ignore even the flimsy goals it asked the U.S. to meet?

Joe Biden appeared in Glasgow but no one should be impressed. Like his predecessors he has opened public lands to oil drilling. Keeping temperature rise to 1.5˚C requires that carbon emissions be cut in half. If the United States were serious there would be no fossil fuel extraction on public lands. It would have to end altogether.

The U.S. is not the only nation keeping the status quo as the world heads toward a cliff.  Brazil and Indonesia continue massive deforestation for logging and cash crop production but claim they will adhere to the agreement requiring the practice to end by 2030. Apparently, they plan to destroy all of their forests before that time and then pat themselves on the back because they are no longer killing trees. India insisted on watering the coal extraction language, but if other nations had been serious they would have spoken up and demanded an end to the worldwide coal industry. India agreed to be the bad cop in this story. The G20 nations have subsidized fossil fuel production to the tune of $3 trillion just since 2015. Clearly the U.S. is not alone in its subterfuge.

Meanwhile the need to compensate the Global South for environmental damage is placed on the back burner of priorities. In 2009 rich nations promised to pay $100 billion per year for five years beginning in 2020. There is no mechanism to do this and the final COP26 agreement only includes a promise to continue discussing a problem which is already clearly understood.

The movement needed to fight for climate justice must be massive and international in scope. The first order of business is to understand the manipulations and duplicity that COP26 and prior agreements have engendered. Kyoto, Paris and now Glasgow are not the saviors they pretended to be. They are in fact the obstacles.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She is the author of Prejudential: Black America and the Presidents . Her work can also be found at patreon.com/margaretkimberley . Ms. Kimberley can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.

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