COP26 fatigue is by now seriously affecting even the sustainability nerds among us. Yet bear with me for one more Snap dedicated to the climate event du jour, and I promise to keep it, if not light, at least a little entertaining this time. Although, I shouldn’t probably use the word ‘promise’ given the inflation it has been subject to lately…
Promises, pledges and commitments have been raining as heavily as the notorious Glaswegian rain at COP26. And the hosts are, understandably, eager to showcase as many successful outcomes as possible. Well, perhaps slightly too keen.
Take, for instance, the Indonesian deforestation saga that has been unfolding on Twitter. Zac Goldsmith, a minister at the UK environment department, was quick to tweet on Tuesday last week that more than 100 countries, including Indonesia, had signed up to “end deforestation by 2030”. The very next day, Indonesia’s vice-minister for foreign affairs, Mahendra Siregar, said Goldsmith’s tweet was “false and misleading”. And a little later, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister, tweeted that asking Indonesia to stop all deforestation by 2030 was “clearly inappropriate and unfair”.
Apparently, Indonesia will also be able to continue building coal plants at home despite signing up to another one of the successful outcomes of COP26, the pledge to end coal use. But why single out one country when there are more. Polish Climate and Environment minister Anna Moskwa, too, was quick to try and reverse Poland’s commitment to cutting coal power by 2030 just hours after her government had signed up for the policy. “The social contract adopted by Poland provides for a departure from hard coal by 2049,” she commented on Twitter. “Energy security and the provision of jobs are our priorities.” Well, more than two-thirds of Poland’s energy comes from coal, so minister Moskwa’s tweet is perhaps not surprising. What is surprising, however, is how easy it is to give and break promises at COP26.
In another, much more positive twist of events, this week, we witnessed a rare joint declaration to co-operate on climate change signed by China and the USA. How lovely to hear that the Chinese and US climate envoys have found a shared interest in the success at COP26, especially after the rather chilly start. It has, after all, only been a week since President Biden was lambasting his Chinese counterpart, calling president Xi’s physical absence from the summit a big mistake and a failure to show leadership on the climate crisis. “The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader – not showing up, come on,” Biden was reported saying by the BBC.
The bickering between the superpowers is old news, however. “Now the two largest economies in the world have agreed to work together to raise climate ambition in this decisive decade,” says the US climate envoy John Kerry. And although the US-China statement contains little in the way of new emissions commitments, other than China stating that it would start to address its methane emissions, it is important. The fine print suggests the two sides have found agreement on some of the outstanding issues in the negotiations, such as setting five-year climate targets rather than 10-year ones.
So, the unfolding COP26 story is well worth following, wouldn’t you agree? Even for those of us not privy to the secret conversations in the plenary corridors or late-night party venues of Glasgow, there is still plenty of drama and surprising twists and turns to delve into beyond the predictable bombastic speeches and pledges.
 Perhaps even more importantly, the two biggest polluters in the world, on total emissions and per-capita emissions respectively.