At the beginning of November, nearly 200 countries will meet in Glasgow for climate talks and to discuss the next steps related to the 2015 Paris Agreement. The summit, officially called the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties, is the 26th iteration, hence its short labelling ‘COP26.’ According to Reuters, in 2009 affluent nations committed to distributing $100 billion per year for five years, starting in 2020. This commitment was reintroduced in 2015 as the Paris Agreement was signed. However, these same nations — the Group of Twenty (G20) — recently admitted just before the summit that they would not be able to meet this goal. Not only is the fulfillment of this goal crucial to broader efforts to mitigate climate change, but it also plays a fundamental role in rebuilding trust between affluent countries (also the biggest contributors to climate change) and poorer, less developed countries.
Many leaders agree that efforts to improve climate change have continually fallen short since 2009. The fact that initiatives are not being executed quickly enough is a harsh reality that many of us as global citizens are familiar with. In an article by the Washington Post, Drew Shindell, a professor of earth science at Duke University, states that “The rate at which you have to cut to reach net-zero gets sharper and sharper the longer you delay. Putting it off even to now makes it so we will require really rapid rates of decarbonization.” Shindell is referring to cutting emissions in order to reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050, which is increasingly seeming like a lofty goal.
The G20’s lack of commitment to ameliorating the climate crisis not only hurts the environment; it also plays into centuries of ensuring that poorer countries remain underdeveloped. Countries that have been colonized and forced into global systems of oppression, frequently in the Global South, are the same countries that have never been adequately provided with the resources that have been continually monopolized by powerful, richer countries. In many cases, richer countries hold the economic status that they do because they extract resources from poorer countries, making the lesser developed countries dependent on them in the global economic cycle.
This has historically led to an incredibly unbalanced distribution of resources and power, and it is a central reason why it is so urgent that the G20 countries fully commit to redistributing money. It is also, however, why it is not surprising that the richer countries have not redirected their wealth: most countries in the G20 have the upper hand in the global economic market, meaning that the climate crisis has taken the backseat on their agendas.
Furthermore, as briefly mentioned, in 2015, countries participating in COP21 closed that year’s summit with the adoption of the Paris Agreement, which, according to EHS Law Insights, calls for mitigation (cutting greenhouse gas emissions), action on adaptation (responding to the impacts of climate change), and action on loss and damage (meaning response to climate catastrophe). The Paris Agreement also further promised adherence to the 2009 commitment to redistribute wealth to properly mitigate climate change. It is important to note what was agreed upon in 2015 because, not only in the past six years but even over the past 12 years, affluent countries have not met the goals they have promised to meet — a promise they have made more than once, for that matter.
We can remain hopeful that after this year’s COP26 summit, countries will be ready to implement significant changes, domestically and internationally. It is clearly imperative that this happens if the climate crisis is to improve. Ostensibly, if each powerful country holds itself and others accountable, strides will be made, but that requires a high level of global cooperation that we have rarely ever seen. However, with the crisis looming, and the international community watching, hopefully, this can be the year that legitimate progress begins.
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