COP26 starts next week in Glasgow, Scotland, the most important international climate meeting since Paris in 2015.
On the agenda is the first comprehensive update to country-level emissions reduction targets — none of which are ambitious enough to meet the global goal of cutting carbon in half by 2030 and limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To get back on track, virtually everything about everything has to change.
We need a revolution.
The main topic in Glasgow will be money. More specifically, who pays for the climate devastation already occurring around the world (especially in countries who did almost nothing to cause the problem). The climate negotiator lingo for this is "loss and damage". The other money-related sticking points are how to motivate rich countries to do more emissions cuts faster, namely through carbon markets or international carbon taxes, and how to have rich countries fund renewable energy and other zero-carbon technologies in frontline countries hit hardest. Against a global political backdrop that's witnessing stark inequality as the Covid pandemic rages on, China-US tensions rising, and billions of dollars of climate disaster racking up almost daily, it's going to be a high-stakes meeting.
As has been happening for decades now, the talks themselves are also riddled with inequality. Rich, high-emitting countries have historically dominated the talks and filled them with delay tactics, until the rise of the political power of small island states and the Climate Vulnerable Forum which won the 1.5 degree temperature target in Paris. This year, it's been very difficult for poorer countries to even afford the logistics to attend the talks, as vaccine inequality and a heavy police presence is keeping climate activists away.
Times like this, there's a critical role for climate journalists. Even what sounds good on the surface can have deadly consequences. For example, there's an absolutely huge difference between zero carbon and "net zero" carbon — one ends the root cause of climate catastrophe, one allows those who have caused the problem to keep on causing the problem while commodifying the forests, people, and shorelines of frontline countries.
The story here is simple, but still undertold: Climate catastrophe is here, it's deadly, and it's an existential threat unlike anything we've ever experienced as a species.
Why don't our leaders reflect that urgency? I think it's that they're so invested in the status quo, they can't imagine anything else other than extraction, disaster, and exploitation. I think it's that they still don't believe that a better world is possible.
A better world IS possible
In the months leading up to COP26, one country, Zambia, is remaking itself for an era of climate change.
Zambia — one of the countries most affect by climate change — has committed to cutting its emissions by a minimum of 25% by 2030, or by as much as 47% by 2030 with significant international support.
About 60% of Zambia’s population is below 30. A youth movement in this year's elections helped put Hakainde Hichilema in power with a plan to create a new ministry of Green Economy and Environment to transform the country — so it's a great example of a country that's reimagining itself and putting its future in its own hands.
On Thursday, I'll be publishing an investigative piece from Zambia-based writer Fiske Nyirongo about the nexus of drought, economic inequality, and hope for the future.
To build a better world, we have to imagine it.
As a special treat, my favorite climate writer Mary Annaïse Heglar's latest essay is in The Nation, it's out today, and it's interactive.
She writes: "The real question isn’t about what the world is doing, it’s about what we’re doing. It’s not whether the world is ending or beginning. It’s whether we’re creating or destroying it. And the answer is, of course, both."
It's a beautiful way to actively insert yourself into the story we're all co-creating. I'd encourage everyone to read it!