What’s wrong with COP26

We need a serious debate. We need immediate action. We do not need the super rich, politicians and royalty to fly to Glasgow by private jet for a banquet. We do not need corporate sponsors and flashing screens. We do not need petty politicians to play statesman. What we need is urgent, systemic change — not this narcissistic spectacle.

Each time I see coverage of COP26 my heart sinks. So much about it is wrong. It should be a solemn affair, eleventh hour crisis talks between serious men and women. Scientists, statesmen and communities working together to immediately end global fossil fuel use, agreeing how best to share our combined wealth to shift to a low impact, zero carbon society.

Instead it is a circus. Climate jamboree 2021. Politicians and the super rich, arriving by private jet, travelling in motorcades to receptions and speeches, to dinner and drinks. Princes Charles and William in attendance. Tuxedos and designer gowns. The future of our planet hangs in the balance — and those supposedly tasked with the solution are having a night out.

COP26 is a press conference on an epic scale, a chance for our so-called leaders to play statesman, to shake hands and give speeches. Constant media coverage, the eyes on the world on them, massaging their egos as it is repeated how they are ‘deciding the fate of the species’. The media are in a frenzy of excitement. A lethal combination of political intrigue, geopolitical tension and apocalypse combine to create the perfect journalistic spectacle.

But watch the news more carefully. The science is rarely — if ever — discussed. Where are the hours of debate on tipping points, methane and climate feedbacks? Where are the hours of expose on the crimes perpetuated by fossil fuel conglomerates against all life on Earth? Instead we have political correspondents discussing whether Boris can ‘hammer out a deal’, as if he could negotiate his way to the men’s room. We hear only about politics, drama and who likes who. Palace intrigue is the best our press can deliver. This conference should be about science, about cold hard physics — and the reporting should reflect that.

I have little hope that COP26 will achieve anything of value. At this point, to hope that the natural world can be saved by a collection of the establishment’s emissaries would be foolish. There have been 25 COPs before this one, and emissions have risen year after year. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. They cheered when the deal was signed at Paris, smiling as though something momentous had been achieved. What was the consequence? CO2 has increased from 400ppm to 417ppm.

Chart by Barry Saxifrage

Think carefully about these people. Do you really see Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi sitting at a table with advisors and scientists, debating seriously and with grave intent? When the cameras aren’t there do you think Scott Morrison and Joe Biden discuss how to phase out fossil fuels? These men have consistently promoted fossil fuels, awarding licenses and vast subsidies to the very industry they now must expunge.

They talk of net zero by 2050 or 2060 as if it is a goal to reduce inflation, or balance the budget. Physics doesn’t work like this. They want a deal, not because it will save us, but because it will make them look good and boost their ‘reputations’. The goal of COP26 is not to limit global warming, it is to sign a deal.

They might agree a half-baked plan to reduce emissions — but only while ensuring the primacy of free market capitalism. If they have a choice between capitalism and catastrophic climate collapse, rest assured they will choose capitalism. This is the same choice they have made for decades. They are not capable of delivering what we need. Our ‘world leaders’ are simply figureheads, in thrall to the hyper-wealthy. Jeffrey has even come to supervise — it is telling he was invited while so many indigenous communities were excluded. The circus has corporate sponsors, vast multinationals like Sky, Ikea and Google.

Climate breakdown and the collapse of the natural world demands rapid, systemic change. The only way to save the planet and our own futures is to immediately end the destruction and exploitation of nature that is central to economic growth. We must shrink the global economy to a level of sufficiency. We must end all fossil fuel combustion. We must cease deforestation and plastic waste. Billionaires must go.

Capitalism will not allow this to happen of course — exploitation and growth are the central tenets of this system. It demands growth, and as has been oft repeated, you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet. The leaders of capitalism, the billionaires, their press and politicians will not permit us to change a system which gives them so much. They would rather see the world burn than sacrifice a single penny. These ‘world leaders’ cannot change the system which gives them their power, in which they grew and were educated, and to which they are endlessly loyal.

We cannot expect system change from COP26, but anything less is to give up the world. We must fight a different way. Instead of trying to persuade them to do the right thing, we need to bypass them entirely. We must ignore their silly jamboree and get onto the streets, telling everyone the truth. We must cultivate a vast grassroots movement, a political force that can command change. We must immediately end fossil fuel use and create a new, green economy. The West must use its vast wealth to help those in the developing world achieve a sustainable standard of living. We must hand over the immense wealth generated through fossil fuels to help those that will suffer most from the warming to come. None of this will come from COP26. But perhaps COP26 has generated the public attention needed to kickstart this movement.

The narcissistic fools in their suits and ties do not matter. They long ago chose the side of money and power over people and planet. COP26 is for show — it is not for action. We must take action ourselves if we are to safeguard the world.

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