Johnson Biden at G7 wikicommons

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric at COP26 – the US and the UK are failing to tackle the climate emergency


“In reality, the US and the UK are not doing their fair share and will be using the conference to greenwash fantasies of ‘net zero’ by 2050. Don’t be fooled.”

By John McGrath, Democratic Socialists of America.

All eyes will be on Glasgow this week as COP26 begins after the summit was cancelled last year. The United States and the United Kingdom maintain a unified front on many issues, and, apparently, they are united in adapting narratives of “Build Back Better” and “leading the world” in becoming net zero carbon producing countries by 2050. This is a scandal and a delusional farce. It is a scandal as the US and the UK are responsible for over a third of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere historically despite representing about 5% of global population. It is a farce as neither country is following through with their inadequate pledges anyway. In reality the US and UK, two of the wealthiest countries on the planet, manage to lead the world in Covid-19 deaths per capita and are leading the world to climate catastrophe.  

Net Zero

“Net Zero” sounds lovely but it is misleading and is used by corporations and the world’s wealthiest countries to absolve themselves of taking responsibility for their greenhouse gas emissions. Net zero is different than zero emissions, and the UK and US plan to compensate future emissions with tree planting and imagined technologies of the future. Some net zero countries will point to 2050, others will point to 2060, but all will kick the problem down the road. Worst still, the burden of carbon sequestration and tree plantations are often planned for foreign countries, usually the global South, who have historically contributed very little to the accumulation of greenhouse gases. What is pitched in white papers as global carbon capture internationalism is really just a variety of modern day colonialism by design. When assessing the information released at COP26 by individual country’s NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), remember to read the fine print. Whose responsible? Are these forests and natural land projects overseas in poorer nations? If so, it’s a brutalizing excuse for not targeting a nation’s own domestic consumption much less an immediate moratorium on all new fossil fuel extraction. 

 Staying below 1.5C

We are currently living in a world of 1.1 or 1.2C global warming, its proven to be a problem, and things will only get worse. Scientists have coalesced around the 1.5C as a collective ambition, and the IPCC report released this summer has confirmed that 1.5C is inevitable and will most probably be reached sooner rather than later. How soon? Every scenario modelled in the report has us reaching 1.5C by 2040 and closer to ten years from now if emissions continue on their current trajectory. What happens at 1.5C? We will see sea levels rise between two and three meters and we will see more heat waves and flooding then we experienced this summer. This is pretty frightening when remembering that in July we saw flooding in London and temperatures reaching 49.5 in the Pacific Northwest. Heavy rainfall will be 10 percent wetter and occur 1.5 more times and extreme heat will be four times more likely. What’s to be done? In order to keep within a 1.5C increase, we need to half global emissions by 2030. Current NDC’s are inadequate. If met, they would account for a 12% reduction, so they have to be improved entirely. However, both Boris Johnson and Joe Biden administrations’ plans include increasing the production of fossil fuels. As a result of this deficiency, expect to see a lot of finger pointing and deflection towards India and China during COP26 (with special emphasis on China this year).

Earlier this month Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry predicted “By the time Glasgow’s over, we’re going to know who is doing their fair share and who isn’t”. Is there any chance a blustering Boris Johnson won’t brag that COP26 was a tremendous success? What are the chances that Biden, who often begins a sentence without an exit strategy, mentions that the US Department of Defence is the largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels in the world and a key contributor to climate change? How’s that for leadership? In reality, the US and the UK are not doing their fair share and will be using the conference to greenwash fantasies of “net zero” by 2050. Don’t be fooled. The Left and the climate movement’s mission is to form a militant and radical mass movement prepared to rebuild the global economy based on equality, justice, eco-socialism and shared prosperity. Rich countries will have to subsidize poor countries. We may be locked into 1.5C temperature increases already, but we will have to end fossil fuel capitalism in order to survive moving forward.  

Johnson Biden at G7 wikicommons
Prime Minister Johnson and US President Biden at G7 Photo credit: Wikicommons

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