COP26 was more talk than action

The age-old adage “all talk, no action” encapsulates the frustration of African representatives with the results of the Conference of Parties 26 (COP26), recently concluded in Glasgow, Scotland. 

The final agreement, called the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards tackling climate change at COP27 in Cairo, Egypt. The agreement strengthens global consensus to accelerate action on climate change this decade. Why were African representatives at COP26 frustrated?  

One of the reasons surrounds the question of financing from developed countries in support of climate action in developing countries. The commitment of resources from the developed world into the $100-billion annual fund to help developing countries address climate action is not being met. 

Developed countries argue that China is now the number one emitter of greenhouse gas emissions. It exceeds the emissions of the US and developed countries combined. They argue China needs to do more to tackle its rapidly expanding economy that is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. 

On its part, China points a finger back at the US and the developed world for being hypocritical. Their economies have benefited immensely from fossil fuels like coal and crude oil. However, these developed countries do not want China to benefit from the same by constraining its economy through greenhouse-gas emission restrictions. 

Africa and the rest of the developed world are left frustrated between the bickering of major powers. Unfortunately, it is the continent of Africa that suffers the most from the greenhouse gas emissions of the developed world.  

Another reason for the frustrations of African representatives to COP26 is the lack of ambition from the most egregious of polluters in addressing the climate crisis. The science on climate change clearly illustrates a major environmental catastrophe in the future, but political elites in developed countries are lacklustre, at best, in grasping the urgency of the climate crisis. 

Climate change is an existential threat. However, in major developed-country cities like New York, Rome, London, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, the weakened economies of these countries, coupled with the political lobbying of the fossil fuel companies, makes drastic action to tame the climate crisis unattainable. 

Ironically, at COP26, fossil fuel companies were overrepresented at the conference, a clear indication that they had come prepared to lobby to safeguard their interests with major government leaders.  

Thirdly, the question of fossil-fuel subsidies crippled any meaningful agreement on climate change that would have teeth. The US and other major industrial countries  provide huge subsidies on fossil fuels to lower consumer prices in their nations, to compensate oil companies for exploration expenses and as a byproduct of the lobbying process in the US congress. These subsidies have the result of making renewable resource development and uptake more expensive and less attractive to energy utilities and the private sector more generally. 

In addition, these subsidies skew the market in favor of fossil fuel companies, which already rake in multibillion dollar profits in oil extraction. The wording on the Glasgow Climate Pact was toothless as far as aggressively dealing with subsidies to oil companies. It called for a removal of inefficient subsidies rather than what was needed: the removal of all subsidies on fossil fuels. 

In addition to this, the ambiguous iteration attached to “inefficient” subsidies, further frustrated African delegates at COP26. Continued subsidies for fossil fuel companies perpetuate the trajectory of a global economy heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Consequently, this results in more global warming. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of the pain from global warming falls on African nations.  

What needs to be done to resolve the issues from COP26 for African nations at COP27? Establishing a mechanism of funding for the $100-billion to support developing countries (many of which are in Africa) would tackle the worst effects of climate change. 

In addition, there is a need to align government policy in the developed world, with the majority of public opinion that is concerned about the climate crisis and wants something done immediately. 

Lastly, developed countries should gradually remove subsidies to fossil-fuel companies, encouraging these companies to invest in green technology. This technology will not only enable these fossil-fuel companies to protect the environment, but also enable them to make a profit. These technologies can then support renewable-energy development in the developing world. COP27 need not be the talk shop into which COP26 degenerated. 

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David Monda
Professor David Monda teaches political science, international relations, and American government at the City University of New York (York College), New York.

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