Wavering on COP26 Pledges

Less than a month before the beginning of one of the most crucial intergovernmental meetings on climate change, the BBC revealed documents showing that thousands of complaints had been filed by UN member states, corporate interests, and other groups in an attempt to modify a key scientific report due to influence the upcoming COP26 in Glasgow.

From Australia to India, Saudi Arabia to Japan, key member states have been exposed for lobbying against the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is responsible for producing the UN’s scientific findings on the climate crisis. The report in question was published in August and illustrated that a grim future for the planet lay in store unless immediate and decisive action is taken.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of those lobbying have vested interests in keeping fossil fuel industries - one of the largest single contributing factors to greenhouse gas emissions - alive. For example, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Oil is shown by the BBC to have requested the omission of phrases regarding actions that result in the mitigation of emissions. Saudi Arabia, according to OPEC’s website, owns 17 percent of the world’s petroleum and the export of the product accounts for up to 50 percent of its GDP. It’s no wonder they are concerned, despite the fact the implementation of the report’s findings could help save countless lives and prevent catastrophe worldwide. Similarly, Australia, whose government has been in the press recently due to their coal mining advocacy and apparent disdain for its own environment, pressured the IPCC to remove a recommendation about analysing the role of fossil-fuel lobbyists. As the world’s largest exporter of coal - highlighted on a Geoscience Australia page - it is, again, disappointing but not surprising.

A cynical complaint, again revealed by the BBC, is that of Switzerland, who complained that wealthy countries should not have to help developing states ease the burden of transitioning to greener energy, even though this was one of the hallmarks of the COP15 in 2009. Such willingness to disregard previous agreements conveys a worrying attitude towards these conferences and the treaties signed. If nation-states cannot cooperate, then there is little hope that catastrophe can be averted.

To some, the revelation that governments are already looking to wiggle their way out of pledges and promises will hardly come as a shock. From the nationalist egotism which saw the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement to the broken COP15 promise to jointly support developing nations to help curb the crisis, there have been numerous setbacks in the short history of pro-climate legislation. Nevertheless, there has been steady and tangible progress. In 2019, the global climate strike saw approximately six million gather to raise awareness of an issue that will affect many more. Countries around the world have already begun and made remarkable steps towards, the transition to greener energy: 97 percent of Scotland’s electricity usage was sourced from renewables in 2020; Poland, a country that relies heavily on coal, has recently signed deals with the offshore wind sector to create thousands of jobs and encourage implementation; and, according to the World Economic Forum’s report on energy transitions, 70 percent of tracked countries had made improvements in the last decade. Clearly, things are moving in the right direction, if not at the right pace. To pick up the said pace, public pressure needs to continue and to even increase.

Echoing the thoughts of Greta Thunberg, who was recently interviewed by the BBC ahead of COP26, “The change is going to come when people are demanding change. So we can't expect everything to happen at these conferences.” And in light of the above leaks, this sentiment holds ever truer. The governments of the world, particularly those with greater interest in keeping their planet-killing industries alive, will always try to find legal loopholes in the agreements made at these meetings. Pressure from the public is what will help to keep them in check, simultaneously raising awareness of the growing climate crisis.


Fergus Hallwood.