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Meaningful Progress at COP26 Predicted Because No Country Wants to Be Seen as a “Climate Pariah”

An interview with GLOBE CEO Malini Mehra

 

World leaders have converged on Glasgow for the much anticipated COP26 summit to tackle the climate emergency. While the summit historically focuses on national commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect and restore our ecosystems, there is increasing global attention on how those big picture goals will play out at the local level.

The Multilevel Action Pavilion will be the home of cities, regions and other subnationals at the summit itself, but just an hour drive down the road at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, another such event gets underway. The GLOBE COP26 Summit attracts a mix of subnational politicians, administrators and NGOs to name a few.

Malini Mehra, CEO of The Global Legislator’s Organization (GLOBE), who spoke at the Multilevel Action Pavilion on 1 November, says the GLOBE COP26 Summit sessions will be taking a closer look at “how the [national commitments] cascade down.” Or as she puts it “the connection between the top down piece and the bottom up piece. This is where our relationship with Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMAs) becomes extremely important. Because it’s the cities in particular which have led the climate change conversation. Citizens who are agitating, protesting, taking to the streets and demanding that their governments respond.”

This helps to explain why she says, “the first wave of climate emergency declarations came from the cities and then the national governments followed and why this increasing partnership with ICLEI and the LGMAs is so important.” This partnership was on full display at last month’s ICLEI Daring Cities 2021 global forum at which Mehra emphasized the need for greater intergovernmental cooperation.

Building on the Daring Cities momentum, the success of both conferences this week could come down to one key word as Mehra sees it: commitment. Whether at the national or local level “you can make as many declarations as you want, but [without making a formal commitment] nobody can hold you accountable, because you’re not legally liable”.

The only way subnational governments can commit to transformative actions such as decarbonizing their energy sectors is if the current financial and resource gaps are addressed. Gaps that exist between national and subnational governments as well as between the world’s wealthiest and developing countries. As such “finance is going to be at the heart of negotiations. It’s really going to be the elephant in the room,” she says. And central to this discussion is what Mehra describes as “the unfinished business of the 100 billion”. More than a decade ago at a United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, rich nations promised to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature at a previous climate summit. But has fallen well short, with an estimated $80 billion contributed in 2019.

Notwithstanding the frustration surrounding this shortfall, the UK COP26 Presidency just announced a new initiative known as the Climate Finance Delivery Plan, brokered by the environment ministers of Canada and Germany. If implemented, it holds the contributing nations accountable to the $100 billion annual target and possibly even to exceed this goal through to 2025.

Despite the fact that the world needs not just hundreds of billions but trillions of dollars to fight climate change and bridge “the energy divide between the haves and have-nots”, Mehra is optimistic that the growing volume of investment could “put a brake on dirty growth,” particularly in developing countries.

“There is no future for fossil fuels in a climate resilient world and at some point, the transition [to cleaner energy] has to be undertaken,” says Mehra. The tipping point for countries sitting on the fence about the transition away from fossil fuels could be that “clean investments are not going to go to countries which have not adopted a very serious approach to national economic decarbonization plans”.

As for those countries that are heading in the right direction, she lists smaller countries such as Costa Rica (which aims to get to net zero emissions by 2050) and Singapore (which is also working to dramatically reduce carbon emissions) as leading the way. “You can also see it in Bangladesh where there are [formal] commitments and in Pakistan where there is a moratorium on coal,” with the country deciding not to build any more coal-fired power plants.

The takeaway from all of this she opines is that “without the drive to invest in clean growth, we will see the same models of brown investments and brown development taking place, which then locks in vulnerability in that country”.

As for what lies ahead during discussions over the coming weeks, finding a way to finally end our dependence on fossil fuels continues to be “an absolute monster” of a challenge, says Mehra. According to the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, humans have already heated the planet up by 1.1C and the prospect of limiting this rise to 1.5C is increasingly in question. “But we can’t indulge in defeatism just because we know the challenge is bigger than we thought. Instead, we have to redouble our efforts and we have to keep people optimistic about the future.”

Despite some reports of doom and gloom and predictions of a world-wide energy shortage that could pose a serious roadblock to eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels, consistent with her positive mindset Mehra points to the fact that “75 percent of the global economy has now declared net-zero targets and in an increasingly multi-polar world, no country wants to be [seen as] a climate pariah”.

 

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