Leaders gathering at this climate summit better make history to combat a climate emergency. History says that they probably won’t, and if they don’t, we the people have a responsibility to make them do it. There might not be much ground for hope, but there is every ground for determination.
As floods and fires and storms rage on around the world, world leaders are set to convene in Glasgow for the much awaited COP26 Conference on climate change. To set the stage, scientists have warned that the planet is on track for a catastrophic 2.7 degrees of warming if governments actually follow through on their existing climate pledges. If governments do not follow through on pledges, and they very often do not, then it is set to get much, much hotter, probably unbelievably so.
This is nothing new, dynamic climate summit after climate summit, warning after warning, has been going on for 30 years now, and the international community goes through the same steps. Each failed climate summit or pledge that was under-delivered has notched up the urgency, as global warming changes to global heating, and climate change turns to climate emergency. Are there any indications that this time will be different? We really can’t be sure.
What has changed is the story we tell about climate change. This is no longer about our children and our children’s children off in a distant future, it’s about all of us right now. The floods and fires and droughts are already happening. This is also no longer about the “planet” – the planet will be fine, the question is whether any humans will be left alive under the sun. It is also no longer just about personal responsibility, about how much each of us flies, or whether we spend 20 minutes in the shower or change a light bulb. It’s too late for that now. We need big transformational changes that restructure our economy. These abstract and misleading narratives arguably have slowed down the climate movement, some of them intentionally so, and it is good to at last get our story straight. But what do we do now?
This may not be about our children’s children any more, but the children themselves have got this right. Young people are out in force, and they have changed the scene with righteous indignation and outrage. Initiatives like Fridays for Future have had an impact, and more institutional approaches like the Race for Zero are setting the right tone – we have to do all we can to get to zero now. It is now a race against time.
If there is one thing that Covid has done, it is to force many of us at least to rely on science and scientific facts while others seek to undermine them. If we look at the climate science that has piled up around us over the years, and if we look at the track record of leaders getting together for climate summits, then at least based on the dry facts, there is not much grounds to have much hope in store. While COP26 goes on, the calls for action need to get ever louder. No matter what it delivers, that momentum of civic action must keep on rising. Where we cannot be hopeful, we can be determined. That determination is the hope we have.