Global warming, pollution, natural disasters: Is COP 26 just a cabal of procrastinations?

Since the first COP in March 1995, there have been 5 US Presidents and 7 Indian Prime Ministers. But 26 years later, targets are still being deferred to 2050 and 2070

Representative image
Representative image

Samir Nazareth

By the time this comes out in print, COP 26 would have become a thing of the past. But what was once the Conference of the Parties (COP) established to bring countries together to combat what was then the threat of Climate Change, has evolved into a cabal of procrastinators. This transformation is not surprising, it is a Darwinian phenomenon seen everywhere in nature. Since the time anthropogenic climate change was first identified as an existentialist threat to today where it has become a part of human life, there have been other related transmogrifications.

The phenomenon was first identified as Global Warming. Then there was the name change to the more secular all-encompassing Climate Change as one began to understand the breadth of consequences of temperature rise. Each iteration of COP was the same – but different; new science brought in the extent of the threat while negotiations remained shortsighted. There was the issue of Ozone depletion and the role of ChloroFluoroCarbons (CFCs). Energy efficiency became a hot topic. Though important, it was a way to circumvent the truth that fossil fuels are the major cause of Climate Change. Energy efficiency would allow more bang for the buck.

To promote energy efficiency and emission reduction, concepts like Clean Development Mechanism and Carbon Credits were created. In layman terms, developed nations and industries unable, or unwilling, to implement energy efficiency and emission reduction targets had the option to fund similar projects in other countries.

Incandescent bulbs were banned, most industries became energy efficient because of the realisation that it saved on input costs. Countries put in place emission standards for industries and vehicles. Though it is hard for citizens to track emission standards of industries, vehicle owners know that emission standards for vehicles have progressed from Bharat Stage 1 to Bharat Stage 6.

However, all these efforts have not helped. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has an Annual Greenhouse Gas Index to track the warming influence of long-lived greenhouse gases, which increased by 41 percent from 1990 to 2017.

According to the Global Energy Review 21 of the International Energy Agency ‘Global CO2 emissions rebound[ed] by nearly 5% in 2021, approaching the 2018-2019 peak’.

As per the World Economic Forum ‘weather damages totalled approximately $2.5 trillion around the globe between 2011 and 2020, up almost 50 percent from the 2001-2010 figure’.

The main reason for this was COP evolving into the cabal of procrastinators. Since the first COP in March 1995, there have been 5 US Presidents and 7 Indian Prime Ministers. Though Climate Change is an existentialist problem, its mitigation created existentialist problems for political leaders who instead of biting the bullet for future safety and security of their country, passed on this proverbial hot potato to the coming generations.

In all this, what began to be realised was that though Climate Change was secular, it would affect every country differently. A nation’s geography and socio-economic condition would dictate the extent of damage Climate Change would cause and the amount of budget the country could spend on mitigation, adaptation, and relief. Thus, the issue of rights became a major bone of contention. It was no surprise then that island nations and poorer nations became the most vocal on combating Climate Change.

The issue of rights was further delineated into how much was each country responsible for the current situation and therefore how much should the country contribute to the amelioration of the crisis. It was argued that developed countries had had more time to grow economically with polluting technology and without diverting money into investing on pollution control. Therefore, they are the main contributors to Climate Change.

Developing Countries like India and China argued that they should not be asked to make contributions similar to the developed world to combat Climate Change because historically they did not cause it. Further, to do so would mean diverting resources and disincentivising polluting industries. This would ultimately slow down socio-economic growth. As a way out these countries suggested technology transfers and funding as a winwin situation.

As countries debated these issues at the annual COP, the impacts of Climate Change became clearer. Everything from agriculture to health and fisheries is impacted. What was left beyond doubt was that the brunt of Climate Change would be felt by the coming generation – a segment of the population who had nothing to do with its cause.

It is therefore not surprising that the youth began taking an active interest in this issue. A recent global survey of youth revealed that nearly 60% felt ‘very worried’ or ‘extremely worried’ about Climate Change. Though the face of youth raising their voice against the current set of leader’s inaction is Greta Thunberg, youth across the world have either formed their own organisations or are supporting existing organisations to campaign for more to be done to prevent Climate Change.

But even as Climate Change, and the call to respond, has evolved and expanded, what has remained the same is our leaders’ unwillingness to step up. What one has been witnessing over the years in the COP is the ability to procrastinate. Even though leaders have come and gone what remains the same is this quality that they all seem to share - procrastination.

Procrastinators have a set pattern. They promise the moon, give deadlines, choosing to ignore that the deadline dilutes the urgency. A lot of time is spent deciding how to meet the deadlines, and what needs to be sacrificed to reach the goal. All this is done with a great sense of urgency and importance. However, one issue or the other comes up and delays a decision.

There are different ways of procrastination; arguing that something else takes precedence over what needs to be done; making illogical and untenable links between fulfilling a responsibility and somebody else completing another task.

The most insidious kind of procrastination is the type where one acts as if the issue is being dealt with urgency, but it is a façade behind which the process is prolonged to outlive the current proposers. To placate those affected by the procrastination, the procrastinator also makes promises and use words that instil confidence.

The world is facing the brunt of this COP out. Is it any wonder then that Prince Charles called COP 26 ‘the last chance saloon’ to save the planet? What will COP 27 bring? Let’s not hold our breath.

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