‘No adults in the room’: Leaders criticised for climate inaction

Many people are doubtful world leaders will suddenly jump into action to head off ‘catastrophic’ warming after decades of dragging feet. 

Climate change-related natural disasters have fast-tracked a drinking water crisis in coastal areas of southern Bangladesh [Courtesy: International Red Cross]

Critics of decades of inaction on global warming voiced deep scepticism as world leaders gathered in Glasgow to hammer out crucial deals to urgently reverse the intensifying climate crisis.

Many activists question whether developed countries will finally move to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and the major corporations responsible for them, and if rich nations – solely responsible for the crisis – will financially support poorer ones in the transformation away from fossil fuels.

Scientists say the COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, is likely the last chance to take serious measures to prevent the most catastrophic scenarios facing the planet, as temperatures continue to rise and extreme weather events become the norm.

Bangladesh, a South Asian nation of 165 million people, is ranked the seventh-most affected country in the world by climate disasters, and spiking temperatures will only make the situation worse.

Mass migration from coastal areas to urban centres inland is already under way as rising seas envelop the low-elevation nation, with as many as 30 million people becoming “climate refugees” in the coming decades.

Developed nations agreed in 2009 that they would contribute $100bn annually to help developing ones deal with the effects of climate change and transform their energy systems. Rich countries, however, have failed on their promises so far with pledges expected to fall short by about $75bn between 2020-25.

‘Sense of responsibility’

Fariha Aumi, deputy coordinator for Fridays For Future-Bangladesh from Jamalpur in the country’s north, told Al Jazeera decades of feet-dragging by world leaders has left her sceptical about the outcome of COP26.

“We will be looking forward to the excuses the developed countries will make, and are hoping to throw some good questions about the [climate] mitigation of our country,” Aumi, a 22-year-old medical student, said.

“If they [G20 leaders] had a sense of responsibility about their deeds or decisions, they would have kept the Global South in mind and provided compensation money properly. Neither of these is visible.”

She added previous climate summits were declared “successful” yet promises went unfulfilled.

“If they still do not understand that the ‘hidden pandemic’ is still going on, I don’t think they will take any action to stop the emissions,” said Aumi.

There are many good reasons to be doubtful that world leaders will suddenly jump into action and attempt to head off “catastrophic” warming.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), formed in 1988, recently warned the planet’s average temperature will be 1.5 degrees Celsius (4.7 Fahrenheit) higher by 2030 – a decade earlier than projected just three years ago.

The effects of global warming, particularly increased cyclones, coastal and tidal flooding that bring saltwater further inland, are devastating Bangladesh [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

‘Civilizational meltdown’

UK-based climate and environmental campaigner Rupert Read is another sceptic that world leaders, particular the most powerful, will take real action after more than 30 years of doing nothing to prevent the Earth’s warming through human activity.

“We’re on course for civilizational meltdown,” Read told Al Jazeera. “So the bottom line is there are no adults in the room, there is no cavalry riding to the rescue. We need to act on this together and we need to act on this without expectation that our governments are going to save us.”

At the 2015 Paris climate summit, 191 nations agreed to prevent warming of more than 1.5C from pre-industrial levels. Six years later, however, the world is on course for a 2.7C temperature rise by the end of the century – a level that spells catastrophe for the planet and all its inhabitants.

Such a surge in temperature means more intense storms, floods, wildfires and rising sea levels. Millions of people will be on the move as areas of the planet become inhabitable.

Some critics have questioned the promotion of the term “net-zero” emissions by world leaders as the panacea to the climate crisis. Net zero refers to the balance between greenhouse gases released and removed from the atmosphere.

“Net zero is used by the world’s biggest polluters and governments as a façade to evade responsibility and disguise their inaction or harmful action on climate change,” said Kim Bryan from the anti-climate change organisation 350.org.

“Net zero does not mean emission reduction. In order to avert the worst impacts of climate breakdown we need to stay below a 1.5-degree temperature rise. That means reducing emissions now.”

‘Criminal’ fossil finance

Bryan also highlighted the fact that major banks continue “the criminal funding” of the fossil fuel industry “that is killing people around the world right now”.

Trillions of dollars still flow into the fossil fuel sector, and there have been few commitments to end it, she noted.

“It’s insanity that our banks keep propping up an industry which is driving the climate crisis,” Bryan told Al Jazeera, noting JPMorgan Chase, Lloyds Bank, HSBC and Blackrock are some of the largest funders of fossil-fuel expansion.

Meanwhile, the world’s governments are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry with $11m per minute, according to an International Monetary Fund analysis.

Ingmar Rentzhog, founder and CEO of the group We Don’t Have Time, said subsidizing the fossil fuel sector is the most pressing climate issue to be solved.

“For years and years these powerful economies have promised to phase out the fossil fuel subsidies, and still nothing happens. In fact, the subsidies are projected to increase over the next few years,” he said in a statement.

“This twists competition and makes it extremely hard for the clean, green alternatives – that are in reality much cheaper – to scale while we still have time.”

2020 was tied for the hottest year on record with nearly 100 million people affected by climate-related disasters that caused economic losses of at least $171bn, according to UK-based charity Oxfam.

Yet nations continue to promote vague actions that will not kick in for years to come when all indications are humanity has only eight years left to right the course – or face a planetary doomsday.

As such, critics of the world leaders have expressed little faith the continuing summit in Scotland will achieve what is desperately needed.

“[COP26] is virtually bound to fail. It will fail us as they failed us previously. Even the Paris Agreement in 2015 – which was an amazing diplomatic achievement – was a paper tiger,” said Read.

Source: Al Jazeera