More than 25,000 delegates from all over the world will travel to Glasgow this weekend to attend the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26. In 1995, the first meeting of COP took place in Berlin.
In the last 25 years, the most significant achievement of the annual COP summits is the 2015 Paris Agreement, where 196 countries came into agreement to limit the global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius, keeping the target to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial times.
The IPCC has brought out one of its assessment reports in September 2021. It confirms with more certainty that human-caused emissions have alarmingly and irrevocably changed the planet and its climate.
And, it warns that to pursue the target of 1.5C, the world will run out of time if it misses the Glasgow COP26 in taking concrete actions to cut emissions. Unfortunately, as it looks now, the planned 2-weeks of negotiations in Glasgow will fail to deliver anything substantial to meet the target agreed in the Paris deal.
The reality is that despite science and evidence being unequivocal over climate change, the political leaders are primarily engaged in politicking instead of donning the leadership mantle to take concrete measures against climate change.
There is no gain in blaming the disease if you
refuse to take medicine and die. Climate change
will not read history books to limit its impact
on the countries that have caused it
The developed world leaders are talking big, but most are trying everything to avoid committing anything. On the other hand, the leaders of the poor countries, instead of planning for the future and preparing themselves to adapt to the changing planet, are indulged in taking the cover of the history and blaming the Rich.
As per the Global Climate Risk Index 2021, the ten most affected countries by climate change in 2019 were Mozambique, Zimbabwe, the Bahamas, Japan, Malawi, Afghanistan, India, South Sudan, Niger, and Bolivia. If the climate risk gets calculated in the long-term index, from 2000 to 2019, the ten most affected countries/territories were Puerto Rico, Myanmar, Haiti, Philippines, Mozambique, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, and Nepal.
A cruel irony
Besides Japan and possibly Puerto Rico, all other countries are struggling to develop economically and politically. It is a cruel irony that people and countries in Asia, Africa, and South America who are already suffering most from climate change have done the least to cause it.
The 52 poorest countries of the world have contributed less than 1% of global carbon emissions. These poor developing countries have contributed very little to climate change, are suffering most from it, and have very little say in the climate negotiation.
Considering their economic strength and political maturity, different countries in the climate-risk regions respond to climate change-related challenges differently. Most climate change-affected regions are still split between haves and have-nots. Some are better at planning and implementing mitigation and adaptation strategies to meet the survival crisis posed by climate change.
Japan has already announced a 46% reduction in its greenhouse gas emission by 2020, almost double the target it was committed to after the Paris Deal.
China has also pledged at the UN to strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060. In the first week of this month, the UAE was the first Gulf country committed to achieving Net Zero Emissions by 2050.
Despite these encouraging commitments, there are serious doubts over the world’s seriousness, particularly the countries of the most affected regions, in doing their utmost to survive this humongous climate crisis. Many countries in these regions are being ruled by authoritarian governments or by sham democracies under the spell of populism.
The primary aim of these ruling regimes has been to be in power at any cost and not to plan and invest in the long term. The election cycle they use to maintain the façade of democracy also forces them to think short-term glories.
Adverse impact of climate change
The coping abilities of existing institutions of many of these countries in the most climate risk-prone regions are precarious. Undoubtedly, the adverse impact of climate change has already severely affected the populace living in these poor economies. Climate change has not only forced more people back to poverty, but it has also brought the possibility of more conflicts and humanitarian crises as these countries suffer from poor governance.
Though the high climate risk countries have a limited role to play in negotiation to mitigate climate change, for their survival, they are needed to invest in adapting to the fast-growing crisis. Unfortunately, the leaders of these countries are invariably failing to prioritise adaptation. Instead, they resist admitting the seriousness of the issue or subverting the discourse to fulfil their agenda.
A recent study by the International Institute of Sustainable Development (IISD) has found after careful analysis of 15 developing countries in Asia and Africa that several of them with a higher level of development are less actively engaged in adaptation planning than lesser developed ones. Thus, not only money but leadership also matters.
No one can deny the role of rich and powerful countries in putting the planet in this crisis. However, just by ruing this fact, the leaders of the developing countries in the most affected regions can’t escape from what looks almost inevitable. They need to do the most for their countries to adapt and survive.
They should not only have a national-level blueprint for adaptation just to tick the box but also a detailed strategy about its implementation at the local level. There is no gain in blaming the disease if you refuse to take medicine and die. Climate change will not read history books to limit its impact on the countries that have caused it.
Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, at Uppsala University, Sweden.