A climate change conference built on sand. It’s a huge missed opportunity

Climate change didn’t matter as much as the heart attacks. International bodies have limped their way through COP26 in Scotland, blundering their way through watered-down deals, tarring everyone and everything as being to blame.

Countries agreed to scrap the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set legally binding targets for greenhouse gas reduction, in favour of the wider deal agreed by climate negotiators in Katowice last December.

But whereas Katowice offered almost no hope for a future where coal used to underpin national economies is, instead, seen as a flagrant menace of the next century, COP26 gives little hope for a way forward.

That was the real takeaway from this COP. Even the science is deserted, its decarbonisation implementation having been shifted back to 2020, having been completely kicked into the long grass.

So much for a Sustainable Development Goals-level conversation. So much for a credible and transparent work-in-progress effort to guide and guide the emissions trajectories of nations.

Less than two weeks before the next summit in Katowice, all that is clear is that there will be no binding targets, no publication of concrete results on what parties achieved and how much progress they made. The gap between the last conference, which was intended to guide the work towards the Paris Agreement, and this one is nowhere near what was required to achieve success.

For every element of what the conference soiled, there were a thousand nit-picky initiatives pursued, shallow initiatives launched, corporate-backed global strategies all of which were intended to artificially create some optimistic picture of optimism. All this in front of a crucial period of transition, of industrialisation, that has just begun and was meant to be minimised.

So now we’ve got the real deal, the actual target, carbon emission targets for 2019.

The countries that will miss the 20% carbon emission target in five years’ time will face penalties that may be significant. Meanwhile, Beijing’s strategy – to simply take no action for the same time period – has been described as “lying in state”.

But a deal is an agreement. A very poor deal, but an agreement. We did this one last year in Paris. We’re failing at this one, let’s not repeat the same mistake at 2020. The worst thing that we could do is let the world know that the COP 26 negotiations are now a waste of time and that the real deadline has passed.

And so COP26 shows again that we are going down the path of least resistance. We have been counting backwards from climate that doesn’t have a time frame anymore and our natural disasters are shrinking the chance of the time frame getting closer.

Some of the worst words to describe a country are “self-isolated”. So here is the real test for every single nation that has elected to be a part of this crucial work: how can you now speak for a country that is still being ravaged by a nation that won’t have its standardised data in place until 2020?

That data is so important that the financial architecture that was devised was intended to cover it and make sure people can access it.

That notion, that individual nations can be held to account by one another, needs to be resurrected and implemented.

The three major “obstacles” to the legally binding global deal that President Macron attempted to achieve in June are now gathering strength. It’s getting harder to overcome them, now more than ever. The Paris Agreement was a monumental achievement that was supposed to help put us all on the path towards a future which would be abundant and without the stench of muck and tar-clouds.

It has been off the rails since then, and heading for oblivion. But given the catastrophic events of our past couple of years, which were precipitated by actions that the negotiators brokered in Paris, who’s going to blame anyone but us if we go full-tilt downhill again?

We need to find some sort of voice at the UN, some sort of organisation that represents and represents us, and make it tangible for governments, businesses and organisations to put this through some sort of appropriate legislative vehicle.

Risk of a G7 treaty as a stepchild is a very real danger.

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