Statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus at the Union of Concerned Scientists
The U.N.’s annual climate talks, called COP26, concluded today in Glasgow, Scotland after going into overtime. Nations ultimately failed to provide a document centering the core issues of ambitious emission reductions, significantly ramping up climate finance, and meaningfully addressing loss and damage. Although the United States rejoined the Paris Agreement earlier this year, and subsequently submitted a bold emission reduction pledge and committed to greater climate finance contributions, it still hasn’t done its fair share and the lack of true leadership from the world’s largest historical emitter was palpable throughout negotiations.
Below is a statement by Dr. Rachel Cleetus, a policy director and lead economist in the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Dr. Cleetus has been attending the U.N.’s international climate talks and partnering with the international community on climate and energy policies for more than 14 years.
“Nations gathered in Glasgow with the undeniable reality of the climate crisis, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, unfolding starkly around the world. Scientists, youth activists and representatives from communities on the frontlines of this crisis also joined, bringing the power of facts and the moral clarity of their lived experiences, while advocating for robust solutions. A flurry of new climate initiatives announced in the first week created momentum that unfortunately stalled out in week two. A surprise joint declaration by the United States and China, while a valuable demonstration of diplomacy between the world’s two largest emitters, failed to provide any new tangible commitments. Richer countries—including the United States—had a chance to be climate champions, but instead evaded their historical responsibility and prioritized the profits of fossil fuel polluters over the needs of people on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“Current pledges to rein in heat-trapping emissions helped narrow the ambition gap somewhat but collectively still fall short of delivering on the Paris Agreement goals, putting the world on track for a temperature increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius that will lead to significant, even irreversible, climate impacts. Adding to the uncertainty, countries still aren’t doing enough to follow up pledges with concrete domestic policies, which could risk even higher temperature increases. All of this highlights the importance of major emitting countries revisiting and raising the ambition of their pledges quickly.
“The Glasgow Climate Pact failed to prioritize climate finance for developing countries to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to worsening impacts, and cope with irreparable loss and damage from climate change. Operationalizing the Santiago Network for Loss and Damage was an important step but is completely inadequate without robust financial resources. Unfortunately, a proposal championed by developing countries to channel new and additional funds for loss and damage—the Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility—never materialized after being blocked by richer nations including the United States, Australia and E.U. countries.
“The final COP26 decision is overwhelmingly compromised by countries that have contributed most greatly to the climate crisis and once again denies justice for climate vulnerable developing countries already experiencing loss of lives, livelihoods, culturally significant sites, and critical ecosystems. It also reflects the pervasive access and equity issues that plagued the Glasgow talks from the start. Limited availability of COVID-19 vaccines in the Global South, a venue too small to accommodate those that made the difficult journey, and glitchy technology shut out many negotiators and civil society members from participating in the process.
“Quickly securing the Build Back Better Act is a crucial step for the United States to meet its domestic and international clean energy and climate goals while addressing environmental injustices and delivering benefits to working people. Moreover, the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration must galvanize the funding needed to meet U.S. responsibilities to climate-vulnerable developing countries, including for loss and damage. Countries must also seize the numerous bilateral and multilateral opportunities to raise their collective ambition in the lead up to COP27, slated to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022.
“Decades of deception by fossil fuel companies and delay of meaningful climate action by world leaders got us to where we are now. Continued failure to treat climate change as the crisis it is, will lead to deadly and costly climate impacts including worsening heatwaves, floods, droughts, storms, and wildfires and increase the risk of irreversible tipping points. If nations—especially major emitters—remain on this path of incrementalism and business-as-usual politics, they’ll condemn current and future generations to a world of untold suffering and harm. Instead, world leaders should heed young people’s urgent calls to protect their futures by embracing a rapid and just transition to clean energy and transportation, safeguarding forests and lands, and investing to keep people everywhere safe from climate impacts.”