To understand what I mean, let’s look clearly at COP26 outcomes.
- 26 meetings after COPs started and 40 years after science showed that burning coal, oil and gas heats the planet, COP26’s formal agreement text actually mentioned fossil fuels directly - for the first time ever. Some saw this as hopeful. Others saw a reminder of the corrupting reach of the fossil fuel industry, in whose presence governments cower.
- Over 100 countries pledged to cut emissions of methane. Another 130 countries pledged to end deforestation by 2030. 40 pledged to phase out coal. However, all of these pledges are voluntary and non-binding. The deforestation pledge repeats a commitment made seven years ago by many of the same countries - which have failed to meet the prior agreement’s milestones. If governments’ responses to the COVID pandemic had been voluntary, it is hard to imagine how many lives would have been lost.
- A decade ago, the world’s wealthiest countries pledged to pay $100 billion per year by 2020 in climate finance to help the world’s poorest countries to reduce their own emissions and to adapt to a hotter world. These wealthy countries have still failed to pay that amount in full, a stunning act of disrespect. When the same vulnerable countries called for a separate fund to pay for recovery from now-unavoidable climate disasters, wealthy nations responded not by committing to set up a mechanism for this, but by agreeing to discuss it further. Gee, thanks.
- A new term entered the climate lexicon at COP26 - “unabated” - as in “unabated coal” or “unabated new sources of fossil fuels.” “Unabated” means any new fossil fuel project not linked to a carbon capture and storage (CCS) initiative that would eliminate its carbon emissions. It all sounds good (or like something a PR firm would think of) until one stops to consider that CCS still hasn’t been proven to work or to be affordable at a meaningful scale. Yet it has become a term that governments toss around as if it is as reliable as an LED bulb. Of course, according to governments and the fossil fuel sector, most new fossil fuel projects are “abated” - even if, in actual reality, they are not.
- On the night before COP was supposed to end, the US and China issued a joint declaration of - essentially - nothing. The governments promised to continue to work together, but made no new commitments. Some found the tone of this non-announcement reassuring. But, if the world’s two largest carbon polluters had nothing to say except that they had nothing to say, and that they could get along well enough to say this, why couldn’t they have said that six months ago - when they then could have been shamed into saying something?
The purpose of this litany-rant is not to embrace nihilism. But it is to call out the undeniable reality that COP’s have developed a pathetic and familiar “not enough, twenty years too late” pattern. The Paris Agreement cracked that mold. Glasgow backslid.
The only solution to the emergency we face is in acts of resistance that build moral power to oppose the climate’s destruction. Two examples from Glasgow are worth noting.
- Over 100,000 people marched, in absolutely miserable Glasgow weather, to protest governments’ inadequate responses to climate change. Every imaginable interest group was there, including a large multi-faith contingent, well-organized thanks for Interfaith Scotland, Interfaith Glasgow, and others. Numbers like this matter - to politicians and the media, and to those of us in the movement who need to be reminded that there are more of us who care than ever.
- Seven governments, led by Costa Rica and Denmark and joined by France, Greenland, Ireland, Sweden, Quebec, and Wales, committed to ending licensing for new fossil fuel exploration and production, and to set an end date for oil and gas exploration and production that is aligned with the Paris Agreement. This coalition mirrored an initiative calling for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, a call supported by more than 100 Nobel Laureates, 900 NGOs, and religious leaders including the Dalai Lama and, notably, the Islamic Society of North America and Islamic Relief Worldwide.
Hope is no longer a virtue when it comes to COP, and the climate crisis. Acts of moral resistance are. People of faith must summon the willingness to voice the ethical disgust that is the only sane response to COP’s inadequacies. Then we must act by protesting, speaking out, voting, and leading by example.