Ever since the lockdown was imposed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, it seems like things have just frozen. This tragedy is not just limited to all the bad that is currently occurring on the planet. It also extends to all the good the world was planning to do that has been postponed and this includes the COP-26.
While the previous conference – COP-25 – was a joke (to put it mildly), this is the only time governments come together to promise and plan cooperation. This conference is the time that comes after five years when global leaders, activists, scientists all come together and talk about the planet’s health.
This year, the conference that historically has been big on ambition and little on substance, was due to be held from 9th – 20th December 2020 in Glasgow, UK, co-hosted with Italy. However, on 1st April 2020, the COP bureau announced that the conference had been postponed to 2021 in wake of the current pandemic.
2020 was pictured to be a landmark year in the world of climate action and this conference was going to be symbolic of the beginning of a climate revolution. It is therefore understandable to feel a sense of disappointment towards how things have turned out. However, looking closely, some good might come out of the delay. If this time is used to think about the economy and societies, the delay might just provide the space to rediscover the potential to turn the situation on its head.
On 27th February 2020, the UK had its launch event disclosing the agenda for COP-26. The key focuses in the agenda are related to helping private finance in supporting the transition to a net zero-carbon economy, and to make it an objective for every financial discussion to think about the environmental implications of their decisions. It was emphasised that every bank, company, insurer and investor will need to adjust their business models to suit a low-carbon world. At the launch event, Alok Sharma, COP-26 President and Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, went as far as to say “COP26 is also a critical moment to enhance support for developing countries. We are determined to work together to deliver a prosperous, zero carbon future for all.”
While the agenda sounds ambitious and exciting, flaws were pointed out by Clare Shakya, director of Climate Change at the International Institute for Environment and Development. Shakya labelled the agenda a great package for the wealthy nations arguing that it is failing the poorer ones and called for a holistic approach. Alongside an emphasis on revision of private investment tactics, Shakya has called for a simultaneous commitment to helping the vulnerable countries tackle climate change.
Kate Levick, program leader for finance at the environmental think tank E3G, further pointed out the overbearing focus of the agenda on the risk side while not doing enough justice to the opportunities that are presented to the worlds of business and economics by the rise of the green economy. A drive to redesign the world of finance focussing on the looming crisis without discussing the potential of building a transformative green future presents the risk of dissuading investors from considering the countries that are most at risk from climate change as assets. In this way, this could serve to be detrimental to the climate movement.
Due to Coronavirus, it is forecasted that this year, there will be zero growth in the Asian economies. Ambition is not quite the word that comes to mind in this predicament when imagining what might be going on in the heads of the leaders of Asia. These are greatly depressing times and survival is likely the first and most important goal on their minds. Having a COP-26 conference in 2020 would have ended up becoming yet another bureaucratic meeting serving to dishearten the environmentalists and damaging faith in politics even further.
Another point to note is that the US presidential election outcome is due to be announced after what would have been COP-26. While getting closer to the later months of 2020, it’s likely to be able to better predict who will win, this election would have presented itself to be a major uncertainty factor at the conference. In 2021, the world would know who will lead America for the next four years and that includes the leaders who gather at the conference. Whether they have the support of the US would have significant consequences in terms of the spirits of the nations, the level of commitments they make, and the amount of money they have in terms of climate finance.
The agenda for COP-26 highlighted a need to set up an organised and consistent finance plan. Pushing back the date for the conference will provide nations with a clarity on where everybody stands. It would have been so much easier to not have had this pandemic at all but there is work to be done with the struggling economies so that in their drive to kickstart their economies, the environment does not become the silent sufferer.
Instead of leaving everyone disheartened, this pandemic can be used to learn about what matters most in societies. Alongside the transformation we may see in social politics, there lies a potential, and on the shoulders of leaders a responsibility, to put things in perspective for everyone and bring the wave of revolution in climate politics that has been long-awaited.