DURING Cop26 in Glasgow, we have seen a festival of grandiose speeches and sweeping rhetoric from Western leaders warning of the cataclysmic threat posed by climate change and advocating urgent collective action.
Yet these empty promises have not been backed up with the binding commitments that are required.
The final agreement, which included a shameful watering down of the commitment to phase out coal production, was utterly inadequate to meet the climate crisis at the scale it demands.
This gap between rhetoric and action was encapsulated by the revelation that Boris Johnson, whose speech opened the conference, has allowed his Conservative Party to accept £1.5 million in donations linked to oil and gas since he became leader.
The government simply cannot be trusted to take the radical action necessary to combat the climate crisis.
We should be considering the nationalisation and winding-down of fossil fuel companies, not accepting their blood money in exchange for political favours.
Since the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015, more evidence has been unearthed that shows breaching the 1.5°C threshold would lead to irreversible devastation.
According to Carbon Brief, with 1.5°C of warming, global sea levels will rise by 48cm by the end of this century, compared to 56cm if we hit 2°C.
Eight cm may not sound like a lot, but it means all the difference for millions of people. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), every 10cm of sea-level rise affects up to another 10 million people around the world.
The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced every year by floods in low-lying areas of Bangladesh.
Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief who oversaw the 2015 Paris summit, and Laurence Tubiana, the French diplomat who crafted the agreement, said that the targets agreed at the Cop26 summit are too weak to prevent disastrous levels of global heating.
Global heating has already reached 1.1°C, and extreme weather is on the rise around the world. The IPCC found that emissions must be cut by 45 per cent by 2030 to stay within 1.5°C.
Current national plans — known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) — would lead to 2.4°C of heating, according to analysis by Climate Action Tracker.
The overall plan of Cop26 is that countries are expected to return with better pledges in 2025, but we simply cannot keep kicking the can down the road. The climate crisis is already here. We have run out of road.
It is crucial that governments around the world — especially in wealthier countries — seize the once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the need to rebuild in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic to rapidly decarbonise our economy through a green recovery. The ambition showed at Cop26 was in no way sufficient.
There has also been a concerted effort of Western countries, led by US President Joe Biden, to blame China and Russia for intransigence on climate commitments.
It goes without saying that every country, including China and Russia, must make protecting the planet the utmost priority.
Yet this blame game is not only counter-productive but is hypocritical and designed to deflect from the historic and current environmental damage wrought by the West.
Leaders at Cop26 have refused to recognise the simple fact that the climate crisis is a symptom of capitalism and is therefore a class crisis.
It must be the big polluters and corporate giants that bear the costs, not ordinary people. As we rebuild a green world, we must bail out workers and the planet — not big polluters.
Without immediate government intervention, with a zero-carbon target date that aims for 2030, the urgent action required to preserve a habitable planet will be too slow.
This will cause unimaginable disruption and could cost millions of lives, most immediately and sharply in global South countries which have contributed the least to climate change.
The truth is that our global future is incompatible with the extractive, rampant form of capitalism that has enriched the ever shrinking few at the expense of the many — and our planet.
This was hammered home by a report released by Oxfam during Cop26, which found that the carbon footprints of the richest 1 per cent of people on Earth is set to be 30 times greater than the level compatible with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement in 2030.
The report, compiled by the Institute for European Environmental Policy and the Stockholm Environment Institute, found that by 2030 the poorest half of the global population are on track to still emit far below the 1.5°C-aligned level in 2030.
Someone in the richest 1 per cent would need to reduce their emissions by around 97 per cent compared with today to reach this level.
The richest 1 per cent ― fewer people than the population of Germany ― are expected to account for 16 per cent of total global emissions by 2030, up from 13 per cent in 1990 and 15 per cent in 2015.
The conclusions from this are clear. To tackle climate change we must abolish the lifestyles of the super-rich, eradicate extreme global inequality and rebuild a world based on equity and sustainability.
In the short term, it is also vital that wealthy countries — including Britain — write off debt for countries in the global South and allow them to prioritise their response to climate breakdown.
The pandemic has pushed poor countries into record levels of debt. The Jubilee Network found that countries were forced to spend $372 billion on servicing debt last year alone and that 34 of the world’s poorest countries are spending £21.4bn on debt payments a year compared with £3.9bn on measures to tackle the climate emergency.
Low-income countries are responsible for less than 1 per cent of the world’s historic carbon emissions while rich countries like Britain industrialised and became prosperous on the back of vast emissions.
The average person in Britain emits more carbon in the first two weeks of the year than the average person does in a whole year in countries like Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
Many African countries commonly pay more than 10 per cent interest on their borrowings while richer nations are paying just 1 per cent or less.
This is a direct consequence of the uneven power dynamics forged through centuries of violent, extractive colonialism and imperialism.
Britain and other Western countries have a moral duty to ensure that economically poorer countries do not disproportionately suffer from the climate crisis due to the unjust hindrance of global debt.
This reveals the global inequalities, born from centuries of colonialism, that must be eradicated if we are to combat the climate crisis.
By 1921, the British empire ruled a population of between 470 and 570 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world’s population.
It covered about 14.3 million square miles, about a quarter of Earth’s total land area. This means that a large percentage of the world was subject to the extractive violence of British colonialism.
The time has long come for former empires to apologise for and take seriously the historical debt that they owe to the countries, communities and individuals who endured their cruelty.
Empire was an incredibly carbon-intensive endeavour, as Western countries rapidly industrialised in large part through the natural resources stolen from their colonies around the world.
Yet at Cop26, we have seen the leaders of these former empires gild their speeches with empty promises whilst condemning the countries they impoverished to deadly climate catastrophe.
We must demand an end to this historical injustice. We must ensure that the equivocating, the inadequate proposals, and the empty rhetoric is replaced by radical action.
Ultimately, we must recognise that our current economic model is entirely incompatible with a habitable future.