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Will ‘Cop 26’ turn out to be nothing but another shameful ‘cop-out?’

The “COP26” gathering, in Glasgow, Scotland, of heads of state and government from more than 100 countries, is, in the words of the host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, taking place at “a minute to midnight” midnight being the horrid hour after which the world will be unable to save itself from climate change.

Yet, two very important countries in the climate change stakes – China and Russia – won’t be represented at the conference at the highest level; that is, by their heads of state. Chinese leader Ji Chin-pin will send a “letter” to the other heads of state, while Mr Vladimir Putin, is expected to address them by video. It’s as if the two heads of state have never heard of the term, “body language” in politics!

What is notable about the attitude of the two heads of state is that their countries must show utmost seriousness about climate change, or else perish (in the company of the rest of the world, to be sure).

China’s pollution levels, largely caused by coal-fired power plants, have been so bad that as long ago as the 1960s, visitors to Beijing could observe, with amazement, men and women going about their business wearing face masks. What an enlightened, health-conscious country – visitors would mutter to themselves, and wonder whether they shouldn’t ask for face-masks for themselves.

Also, the Chinese could be seen to prefer bicycles as their means of transport. Westerners laughed at them. But the Chinese had seen the future before it happened. Today, they have adopted the Westerners’ preference for motor vehicles. And the emissions from motor vehicles have added to that from coal-power plants, to make China one of the worst places to live on earth.

Russia too has not been spared atmospheric pollution, in its quest to copy Western consumerism. And it is paying a very very heavy price. A recent headline on the Internet claimed that “Siberian wildfires now bigger than all other fires in world combined”.

The report under the headline read:

“YAKUTSK, Russia — Gigantic wildfires are burning across Siberia on a record scale that is larger than all the fires raging this summer around the world combined.

The massive blazes in Russia are fuelled in part by extreme heatwaves and record droughts that scientists are blaming on warmer temperatures linked to climate change.

“The worst-hit region is Yakutia, a vast semi-autonomous republic around 3,000 miles east of Moscow, that in winter, is one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth. The fires in Yakutia are already among the largest ever recorded. The region is enduring a historic drought that is feeding the fires.

The huge quantities of smoke has drifted as far as Alaska and the North Pole. Local authorities are struggling to contain the infernos, saying they have only a fraction of the manpower and equipment needed.” a state of emergency has been declared in Yakutia over the fires that are estimated by local authorities to cover around 1.5 million hectares. For over a month, thick, acrid smog has hung over hundreds of miles over the region, frequently blanketing the capital and in places, blocking out the sun…..Greenpeace Russia estimates the fires have burned around 62,000 square miles across Russia since the start of the year.”

Western Europe has not been spared, either. On 30 October 2021, the European Commission issued the following press release in Brussels:

“Austria forest fire: EU deploys immediate assistance”

“Austria activated the EU Civil Protection Mechanism on 29 October 2021, requesting assistance to fight the forest fire that had broken out in the region of Hirschwang, in Lower Austria. The EU’s Emergency Response Coordination Centre mobilized 2 Canadair CL-415 fire-fighting planes, based in Italy. The planes, part of the EU’s rescue transition fleet, are already deployed in Austria. In addition, Germany and Slovakia have offered firefighting helicopters via the UCPM. Both offers have been accepted and deployment is pending. The Copernicus Service has also been activated in support of the fire-fighting operations in Austria”.

Fires in Austria in the autumn? Summer is the usual time for forest fires (as happened in Greece) isn’t it? These unusual occurrences, seen in the context of similar phenomena in California and Canada, and the floods in an “efficiently-run” country like a tech-savvy country like Germany, point to the fact that the climate problem has become very dangerous indeed.

The trouble is that measures put in place today – no matter how far-reaching, won’t be able to affect climate change significantly until a decade or so. Every minute wasted arguing adds to the ineffectiveness of future action, if and when it is taken.

The climate summit in Glasgow is called COP26 because it is the 26th “Conference of the Parties”; that is all the countries signed on to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as the Paris Climate Agreement of December 2015. COP 26 meets every year to discuss progress on the fight against climate change and negotiate how to fulfill the terms of climate agreements already signed. 2020’s meeting was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic so COP26 will be the first time countries have met since the U.N.’s latest climate science report, which issued a dire warning that the impact of climate change was getting “more severe, and that time was running out to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to “1.5 degrees Celsius.”

At the Glasgow summit, more than 100 world leaders will speak in the first two days of the summit, to lay out their countries’ plans to reduce emissions. Some are expected to possibly announce new goals or commitments on climate issues.

Even with current promises to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, the U.N. says the world is set to miss that Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The latest U.N. analysis predicts that current commitments put the world on track for “2.1 to 2.7 degrees Celsius” of warming, which would trigger more dangerous impacts, such as worsening severe weather and drought conditions, that could start to hamper food production in parts of the world or make it more difficult for some communities that live in low-lying areas, to survive.

The Paris Agreement promised $100 billion a year in financial support for developing countries to combat climate change, but wealthier countries that were expected to contribute the most to that goal, have not followed through. So negotiators will need to come up with a plan to meet that goal, as well as discuss how much to increase it, going forward.

In the midst of all these serious considerations, the actions of galamseyers in Ghana who deliberately threaten our water supply and food-growing capabilities, seem madder than ever.

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

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