Aftermath of COP26: More of the same?

Picture Courtesy: New York Times
By: Salar Tarar

The world geared up for Glasgow in more hope than expectation. In the backdrop of the Scottish Event Campus, the exhibition center that hosted the COP26, scores of international leaders and delegations painstakingly engaged in discussions on how to evade humanity’s code red. Camouflaged in the retinue of advisers and experts were some staunch supporters of the fossil fuel industry – India, Australia, and Saudi Arabia to name a few. So, the conference was subject to internal sabotage.

 Not surprisingly, the results were laden with ambiguities and shortcomings. Ironclad guarantees to collect funds of up to $100 billion climate finance, previously agreed upon in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, were not realized. Contrary to the enthusiastic grapevine before the conference, timeline-bound plans were neglected at the altar of expediency. The phasing out of coal was also slowed down. Proponents of the conference tried to ramp up a victory parade by citing new and bigger emission targets, yet the only parade witnessed near the halls consisted of youth organizations protesting at the callousness of political leaders around the world. It was then no wonder that Greta Thunberg’s slogan of “Blah, Blah, Blah” gained more traction on social handles.

The moderate success of COP26 is indeed perplexing. Primarily because there has been little congruence between enlightened words and meaningful actions. Boris Johnson was didactic in his remarks: “Two degrees more, and we jeopardize the food supply for hundreds of people. Three degrees and you can add more wildfires and cyclones. Five times as many droughts, and 36 times as many heat waves.” The imagery used by the Prime Minister was reminiscent of apocalyptic science fiction – one that would be a box office sensation. However, policymakers around the world did not seem to be complaisant. They demurred to the nature of this existential threat that the world faces and the desolation that it will bring. Apparently, there seems to be nothing box office in saving planet earth.

Pakistan stands at crossroads at this crucial juncture. It is a well-versed fact that according to the Climate Risk Index, it is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change-induced shocks despite being a low emitter of carbon. Pakistan cannot simply wait for a new dawn at one of these environmental conferences. It has to charter out a plan. Herein, Climate diplomacy is the need of the hour. Avenues of climate finance need to be explored and policies to shift towards a green economy must be ironed out.

As is the case with treasures, climate funds are available to those who earnestly look for them. The Green Climate Fund was created by 194 countries party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 2010. According to figures on GEF’s official website, Pakistan has so far acquired finances of $121 million to work on three main projects. In comparison, Bangladesh has taken up $368.6 million from the same reserves. Other than mitigating some of the environmental dangers, Pakistan’s struggling economy can also benefit enormously from engaging in climate projects. More needs to be done.

Climate and politics are now developing a strong correlation around the world. This can be seen in the plans announced by President Biden in the USA. Pakistan is no different. However, our political arena is full of relentless acrimony. In such an atmosphere, several environmentalists are worried about the close association of the incumbent government with the tree and environment campaigns. Every new government in Pakistan is prone to discarding or ignoring the well-grounded initiatives of their predecessors. Hence, the gains in environmental policy could be lost to political short sightedness. The matter of the fact is that this issue is larger than politics. It is a national issue. Consensus on continuing and improving environmental structures and protocols must be universal and across the board.

Perhaps, what Pakistan is missing is a Greta Thunberg. A new fresh face that can spearhead and sustain the environment campaign in our civil society. But that might be too much to ask? We just might have to settle for what the attendants of the COP26 spent 12 days in Glasgow for: more of the same.

The writer is working as a policy analyst and is a graduate of LUMS. He can be reached at [email protected]