WAlcatas, confrontations, screams, tears, phlebotomy – The UN climate police have seen it all. The annual meetings, in which all countries exclude the participation of some failed states, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992, are the only global forum to discuss the future of the planet. They have oscillated between triumph and disaster, marked by dramatic and sometimes traumatic moments. At best, they can be momentous events accelerating the global response to the climate crisis, as in the landmark Paris Cop in 2015.
The 26th conference of the parties this year, postponed from last year due to Covid-19 and shadowed by the pandemic, will be different. Scheduled to take place in Glasgow in November, these will be the most important talks since 2015. At Cop26, countries will present their plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions in this decade, probably the last decade in which we still have the opportunity. to limit global emissions. warming to 1.5 ° C, beyond which corals bleach, low-lying islands face flooding, and extreme weather will take hold.
Preparations are underway in Glasgow, and the Chairman of the Police, UK Minister and former Secretary for Business Alok Sharma has already laid out his plans for the conference. He wants all countries to adhere to a long-term goal of net zero emissions, strong carbon targets by 2030 and greater pledges of climate finance for the developing world.
It will lay out the need for all countries to adhere to a long-term goal of net zero emissions, strong carbon targets by 2030, and increased pledges of climate finance for the developing world.
However, the biggest unanswered question is whether the conversations will take place in person.
In the past year, the world has gotten used to virtual conferencing. Zoom fatigue and online meeting etiquette are now the currency of work and social life. Major international meetings have been held online for the first time: the UN general assembly last September, a virtual Davos, and a climate summit at the White House last month.
Under these circumstances, a virtual Cop26 seems like a good idea. Emissions are recovering from the fall of the pandemic, so the world cannot afford to lose another year. A virtual policeman could take place regardless of the Covid-19 variants that may emerge in the coming months, and would circumvent the delicate issues of vaccination passports and international travel from Covid-19 hotspots.
Developing countries with poor telecommunications infrastructure could equip themselves in time or use UN facilities for their negotiations. Civil society groups could participate through online forums: Greta Thunberg went on a virtual school strike last year.
UK government officials are now actively considering how a virtual cop might function. They will have a test form later this month, when the first three-week online negotiations under the UNFCCC will take place.
The outlook for the key elements of Cop26 is promising. A year ago, only a few countries, including the UK, had a goal of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century. Now, all the major emitters (China, the US and the EU) and other countries responsible for three-quarters of global emissions have that target. Momentum has also increased in emissions cuts for this decade: the US, EU and UK have set stronger targets for 2030. If China, the world’s largest emitter, boldly pledges to hit the maximum of carbon by 2025, that would keep the Paris targets within reach.
Above all, a virtual cop would be a safe cop, and not just in terms of Covid. The drama of some former cops has been disastrous. The chaotic end of Cop15 in Copenhagen in 2009, when Barack Obama struggled to salvage a last-minute deal from scenes of chaos, has left deep scars. Because the UNFCCC requires consensus, a handful of destroyed nations can wreak havoc. At the last Cop, in Madrid in 2019, Brazil demanded a ransom from the rest of the world, refusing to subscribe to the new carbon rules.
For these reasons, a growing chorus of voices within Whitehall is calling for a virtual Cop26, rather than the messy uncertainty of an in-person Cop that may have to be canceled anyway, if the pandemic worsens. However, these calls must be resisted.
The pattern of online meetings is clear, from a UK climate summit last December and Joe Biden’s summit last month. World leaders turn on their microphones, say a few warm words, make a pre-rehearsed announcement, and turn off again. For those with commitments to make, it is a showcase; for those who do not have it, a lime.
Vladimir Putin was lavishly praised at the Biden summit; However, Russia is a large exporter of fossil fuels, with gas operations that leak so much methane that they can be worse than burning coal, and it does not yet have a credible climate goal. Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil appeared to proclaim his tutelage of the Amazon; the next day he weakened his protection again. Scott Morrison from Australia used his spotlight for good public relations, but left without significant commitment.
In a virtual cop, these stragglers would play the same trick, spelling disaster for climate action. We cannot afford to continue liberating these countries. Even countries with commitments must be persuaded to increase them, and that will only happen under the global gaze of a real policeman.
In the white heat of face-to-face negotiations, long-standing positions melt away and new alliances are forged. The real turning point for the Paris agreement did not occur in the French capital, but four years earlier, in Durban in 2011. The EU wanted to agree on a path towards what would later become the Paris treaty; China and India, resisting what they saw as a brake on their growth, opposed it. They thought they could trust other developing countries to back them, but the EU had forged its own coalition. The allies walked away until, after a marathon 40-hour negotiating session, the ministers of China and India were left alone, facing Connie Hedegaard of the EU, with the US, Japan and others exhausted on the sidelines, betting to which the EU would give in. Hedegaard stood his ground: In an exciting final meeting in the center of the room, shortly before dawn, surrounded by a tight group of interpreters and close advisers, China and India finally got engaged, and the way was suddenly paved for Paris.
The irony, for those who would persuade the UK Prime Minister to have a stage-led meeting online, is that Boris Johnson would shine before a policeman himself. His gift for personal relationships, for speaking softly and cajoling, cheering, cheering, and flattering people into doing what he wants, is precisely what it takes to attract the reluctant to the table and build a consensus of peers. unlikely bedding.
With less than six months to go, these questions are urgent. The UK cannot make the call alone: the UN and the Police office, made up of representatives from developed and developing countries, has the last word, but the UK will have a lot of influence. Johnson’s advisers can push for a safe, predictable virtual Cop26. The prime minister should ignore them, follow his instincts, and risk a real Cop26 in person, where his unique personal appeal, which infuriates many, could be his great strength. Glasgow could still be his prime.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism