cop26, GLAS-NO

All the right words have already been said.

For two years we have known that COP26, the UN climate change conference, will be hosted in the UK. These annual international conferences have been happening for longer than I’ve been alive, during which time global emissions have not just increased, but doubled.

Attention is rightly being given to the summit; the only mechanism for international decision-making on climate change. For two years I have been watching preparations and hoping that serious consideration has been occurring behind the scenes despite appearances to the contrary.

Unfortunately, this COP has been beleaguered by poor decision-making and British arrogance. “The most inclusive COP ever” has seen 40% delegates unable to reach Glasgow because of inadequate preparations, observers shut out of rooms they should have access to, online access only for those already in the UK, £6 sandwiches, and queues of 90 minutes to pass through security. British speeches are ignorant of their audience, littered with idioms and cultural references to Swampy which are rendered meaningless, while those who deliver them remain bewildered at their cool reception.

This COP is a rigmarole, a jamboree, a masquerade, a frightening microcosm of climate injustice

This COP is a rigmarole, a jamboree, a masquerade, a frightening microcosm of climate injustice which has been conceived by city elites in the model of a trade show or press conference. We must carefully coax commitments out of decision-makers and polluters, and be thankful for what is proffered, all the time being understanding of slow movements, caution and protectionism (read: greed). Meanwhile those countries waiting on the elusive decade-old promise of $100bn/year and saddled by debt burdens, must keep a fixed smile and not make accusations lest they jeopardise the crumbs that might get dropped under the table.

I am ashamed of the UK government. It has never set the vision for COP26, and in the two years since setting its Net Zero legislation there have only been delays and obfuscations on policies. There’s also been the small matter of a Cumbrian coal mine. This week the UN’s António Guterres warned that present targets suffer from “a deficit of credibility and surplus of confusion”; an inadvertent summarising of the UK’s COP presidency.

This week I have watched as a myriad of announcements have been made to external applause. Much was made for example of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) – a coalition of 450 international financial companies – unveiling $130tn of private capital to help economies meet net-zero targets by 2050. Less attention was given to the rejection by GFANZ signatories of recommended IEA targets (which put a hard stop on fossil-fuel financing) for IPCC targets (which don’t).

Simply put, it doesn’t matter how much help is offered to remove wolves from the sheep pen if those offering help are also propping open the gate.

Simply put, it doesn’t matter how much help is offered to remove wolves from the sheep pen if those offering help are also propping open the gate. COP is trying to sell options for change which allow everything to stay the same. COP is wolf-friendly: it feels important to say that while providing sheep’s clothing or talking about wolf-taming may be easier than telling wolves to stop eating the sheep, it is significantly more bloody.

The decisions we are making now concern the soul of the world. With breath-taking arrogance we have entered into a Faustian pact to transfigure creation in our own image. Nothing is sacred. We cannot serve both God and money, and we have chosen money.

Success in Glasgow means decisions which enable a rapid reduction in global emissions in real terms. This COP rigmarole will only achieve this in spite of itself. (For an indication of how far off we are, under current projections emissions will increase by 16% in the decade to 2030. We need a reduction of 45% for a 1.5 degrees pathway. (UNFCCC))

If you are reading this and feeling a little bit concerned, let your concern be a prayer. It has become easier for us to call time on the entire countries, than on shareholder profits in fossil fuels, and we should lament.

Across this next week I will be in Glasgow, praying with others, participating in marches and events, and observing the negotiations. I am not optimistic, but I am hopeful. Justice is not ours to deliver, but God’s. I am confident that by God’s grace, we will journey on.