Global lens

What the world is saying about Cop26

The ‘last chance’ bid to tackle climate change kicks off in Glasgow this weekend

Boris Johnson has admitted he is “very worried” that Cop26 “might go wrong” as the clock ticks down until the UK-hosted climate summit gets under way.

Answering questions from schoolchildren at a special Downing Street news conference this week, the prime minister said it would be “touch and go” whether world leaders could achieve the necessary agreements to protect the planet.

But he added: “I think it can be done.” Here is what the rest of the world is saying.

Scottish setting

“It was once dubbed Europe’s murder capital, but this year it was voted the world’s friendliest city,” said Al Jazeera. Glasgow, “home to one of the most bitter football rivalries”, has rarely lacked drama and from Sunday will “take centre stage as the host of a highly anticipated summit seen by many as the last chance to avert a global climate catastrophe”.

The news site, which is part-funded by the Qatari government, predicted that this “city of contrasts” will either be “hailed as the scene of a spectacular success or lamented as the place where dreams of a better tomorrow were extinguished”.

Temperature talk

The activists and delegates heading to the Scottish city from across the world “have reason to be anxious”, wrote climate campaigner Eleanor Salter in The New York Times. The summit represents “perhaps one of the world’s last chances” to limit the rise in global average temperature to less than 1.5C above preindustrial levels.

Johnson has generally displayed “bombastic optimism” that other countries will step up, said Salter, but Britain is “far from a climate hero”. A “glance” behind Johnson’s speeches “reveals hypocrisy everywhere”. 

Despite “a smoke screen of good words”, the UK “is pursuing policies at home and abroad that violate every single goal” set for Cop26, she continued. And ultimately, “warm words won’t stop a warming world”. 

Pressing agendas 

The negotiations “are likely to be fraught”, said France24. The “rulebook” on how climate goals are measured is yet to be finalised, “long-festering disputes” over the governance of carbon markets persist, and poorer nations are calling on wealthier ones to make good on funding promises.

Wealthy nations have yet to meet a target set at Cop15 to provide $100bn a year in funding to help developing nations tackle the front-line effects of global warming. The UK government’s newly published Climate Finance Delivery Plan said the goal is unlikely to be achieved until 2023.

In an article for the Financial Times, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s President Felix Tshisekedi wrote that Africa is “tired of waiting” for financial support and “must be a priority” at Cop26.

The continent “contributes so little global warming” yet faces “a cruel fate”, said Tshisekedi, who is chair of the African Union. A “clear plan” is needed on how resources to fight climate change will be deployed, he argued, adding: “It is time for Africa to be compensated – for the good of the continent and the planet. We have waited long enough.” 

Contentious conversations

Cop26 President Alok Sharma has admitted that the absence of some leading global figures will be a stumbling block in achieving the summit goals.

The no-shows will include Vladimir Putin, owing to the coronavirus situation in Russia. However, Kremlin-owned news agency TASS said that the Russian president and Johnson had discussed “climate problems” together “in detail” this week, in their first joint telephone call since May last year. The British leader “welcomed” Russia’s commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2060, the agency added – although this target date is a decade later that that set by most other developed nations.

Although the “leaders of most of the world’s biggest greenhouse emitters will gather in Scotland”, said The Japan Times, “the man running the biggest of them all”, China’s President Xi Jinping, also “likely won’t be there”.

Ultimately, “if the rich world fails to demonstrate solidarity and leadership, it will have no moral standing to criticise China”, wrote Sam Geall, a specialist in Chinese climate policy and politics, in The Sydney Morning Herald

Eyes will also be on other major fossil fuel emitters including Australia. The country’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has this week adopted the 2050 target, but “sadly”, that’s where the “good news begins and ends”, said The Guardian Australia columnist Katherine Murphy.

No strategy or legislation for achieving this goal has been put forward by Morrison so far, Murphy noted. In fact, the “pre-Glasgow crescendo” has left us with a so-called new plan that is simply “the status quo” served up with “some new speculative graphs”. 

Covid complications

The Covid-19 pandemic delayed the summit by a year and could yet cause further disruption. A cartoon by Liu Rui in China’s Global Times English-language paper portrays the UK as a “dangerous climate” for the summit, as Britain battles one of the highest case rates in western Europe.

The UK has made coronavirus vaccines available to Cop26 delegates, but in an article for The Guardian, an unnamed negotiator from a developing nation wrote that “I’m not sure this will be enough to enable the participation we need to see” from NGOs and observers in such countries.

These delegates “play a very important role at Cop, by creating pressure and a sense of urgency”, said the insider, but the expense of hotel quarantines for visitors from red-list countries, as well as accommodation costs in Glasgow during the conference, might prove prohibitive.

Kenyan climate campaigner Kevin Mtai also emphasised the importance of representatives from “the most affected areas” speaking at Cop26. “It’s very important for people from the global south to speak for themselves, not other parts of the globe to speak on their behalf,” he told the BBC

Words of advice

Cop26 organisers might learn a thing or two from previous UN summit organisers such as Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, who helped run Cop21, at which the history-making 2015 climate agreement was signed.

Figueres told The Guardian’s Today in Focus podcast that to “survive” these conferences takes “quite a bit”. “You have to be able to have about 1,323 balls in the air at the same time,” she said. 

Cop26 chief Sharma would be wise to mull over the seating plan, she warned, because the conference rooms should be arranged “to have the best chances of success for each individual piece of the negotiations”. 

Figueres explained: “If you walk into a room that has been set up with a round table, that immediately gives you one impression of the conversation.” On the other hand, “a square, or even worse, a rectangular table… gives you a very different impression”.

Protecting high-profile delegates also poses challenges. A Spanish official involved in organising the Cop25 summit in Madrid two years ago told Politico that Greta Thunberg’s security had been a “true nightmare scenario”. The Swedish climate activist’s team “refused to agree to an itinerary so we could protect her” from the crowds who followed “everywhere she went”, the unnamed official claimed. 

Thunberg has confirmed that she will be taking part in a climate strike in Glasgow on 5 November. She told the BBC that she hoped world leaders would “be honest” at Cop26 and address “how you have been failing, how you’re still failing us”.

“In my view,” she said, “success would be that people finally start to realise the urgency of the situation and realise that we are facing an existential crisis, and that we are going to need big changes, that we’re going to need to uproot the system.”

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