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GLASGOW – National leaders flocked to the Scottish Event Campus this week to take part in what has become an annual penitentiary ritual – apologizing for historically bad climate behavior and eventually promising to be clean, but not yet.
At the two opening days of the two-week COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, 115 leaders took the pulpit – many to say how they plan to atone for their carbon sin, while countries affected by the impact of climate change called for it. penalties in the form of larger cash flows and steeper emission reductions.
“Why should they suffer this immediate impact, this loss and injury, because [of] emissions that we in our country started producing 250 years ago? “asked the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
But despite the regular observations, UN chief António Guterres said it was an “illusion” that commitments made were enough.
“When will leaders lead?” asked Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley. “Can we… find it in ourselves to get the will to bring Glasgow back on track, or are we leaving today and believing it was a failure before it starts?”
But leaders’ often boring speeches are less about leading than about following. The global climate system does not impose sanctions for lack of emission targets or for not promising to do enough to keep warming in check, it is rather dependent on moral conviction – the feeling of shame from leaders before their peers if their countries are seen as lagging behind . The idea is to get presidents and prime ministers to return again and again to such events every time they push out higher commitments.
“We have to repeat and repeat. It’s just terribly boring, terribly long, but absolutely necessary,” said Laurence Tubiana, a former French diplomat who is one of the architects behind modern climate policy.
The goal, Tubiana said, is to build a sense of relentless progress, “the expectation that this will happen, it’s just inevitable … then you have the fear that if you’re out of the loop if you do not keep up. the movement you will be left on the side of the global economy. “
That explains why some of the most powerful men and women in the world were on stage in Glasgow, despite the fact that many had nothing crucial to offer.
US President Joe Biden, French Emmanuel Macron, Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen all gave speeches that did not make serious progress with promises Guterres called “grossly inadequate”. Only Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi briefly set in motion the meeting with a promise of reaching net zero in 2070 with swift action in the 2020s.
Even by giving banal speeches, the leaders kept the Paris prophecy alive, said Stefan Aykut, professor of sociology at the University of Hamburg. He has invented a term for this style of diplomacy – “troublesome governance” – with the idea that rituals reinforce certain behaviors or change perceptions of reality.
Efforts to avert catastrophic climate change are based on “a belief in magic … almost like a kind of hypnosis,” he said. This is “a social practice used in many social contexts and traditional societies”, but also in business.
Cross your fingers
The idea is that by saying the words you begin to believe.
Concrete initiatives are underway in Glasgow. More than 100 countries have signed a pledge to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, a crucial step in the fight against climate change, although one that also calls for some suspension of infidels, as the pledge includes Brazil, where deforestation has reached its highest level since 2012 under the rule of President Jair Bolsanaro.
Another pledge, which also applies to more than 100 countries, seeks to reduce global emissions of methane – the second largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide – by 30 percent below 2020 levels by 2030. Again, this pledge includes huge oil and gas producers as Nigeria and the Gulf’s petrostates, which would have to make painful and unlikely political changes to make it happen.
But there is a perception that while some of the promises are not so credible, there is at least movement. Tubiana said that a promise from Saudi Arabia last month to reach net zero in 2060 was “crazy” and that during negotiations with the Saudis in Paris in 2015 she had a feeling that “for them it was something, that should never happen. ” But she said they felt “forced” to act because of the ritual.
These efforts were reinforced by one-on-one confrontations between sinners and those they have wronged.
In a meeting on Monday hosted by the British hosts and led by Johnson sat a group of leaders from the biggest polluting nations, including Biden, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and the smallest, most vulnerable nations around. a table and asked to give two-minute talks on their fears of climate disasters. It was specifically “designed to be unpleasant” for the polluters, a British official said.
Surangel Whipps Jr., president of the Pacific island nation of Palau, traveled through pandemic-disrupted international airports for five days to reach Glasgow and beg for his country.
“In a cruel and endless cycle of co-dependence, we are looking at partnerships with precisely those nations whose emissions threaten our existence in order to survive the devastation for which they are responsible,” he said.
Biden offered an apology for the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement under his predecessor, Donald Trump, and said the people of his country and his home state of Delaware had been stubborn about climate change.
“Well, they have, as they say in the southern parts of my state, seen the Lord,” said Biden, “and they are now finally, finally finally, finally aware of the sense of urgency that you all are.”
No worship experience would be complete without the compilation.
Rich countries have long promised poor countries that they will pay for inherited sin through their early industrialization, which brought climate change to the world, by providing money to help poor countries develop by using fewer fossil fuels. The goal is to provide $ 100 billion a year in climate finance – a goal that rich countries do not meet and that poor countries want dramatically raised.
The bite has taken a lot of heat, both from developed and developing countries, for the level of US support for poor countries. The United States gives much less in terms of the size of its economy, but this failure is a collective one, and Tubiana said it was the most dangerous issue in the Glasgow negotiations.
“It could kill anything,” she said.
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