To spend two weeks debating climate change, while barely mentioning the fossil fuels which cause 89 per cent of it, should be unbelievable – but given many people’s current expectations of our politicians, it somehow seems normal.
COP26 represents a triumph for fossil fuel industry lobbyists, and a tragic failure of global governance. My only hope comes from the rising pressure from citizens that will, one day, force change – plus the fact that we don’t have to wait too long for an attempt to do better, as countries will meet again next year to revisit their pledges.
Given that the science is clear, and the emerging solutions are both doable and affordable, one might conclude that collectively we just don’t care enough about the future of our planet and our children to act.
Human nature can be both selfish and extraordinarily altruistic; what makes the difference is the behaviour we see normalised around us. We live in an era of unbridled personal greed, accompanied by declining standards in public life, which can easily make anyone aspiring to behave better feel like an isolated mug – and seeing politicians, celebrities, and billionaires arriving in Glasgow in private jets, or MPs lining their pockets while lobbying for oil companies, undermines the individual sacrifices (e.g. higher energy bills) that the rest of us will be asked to shoulder for collective salvation.
I now read with disbelief that ExxonMobil, perhaps the worst of the oil companies in terms of funding climate change denial, will be officially advising our government on the UK’s path to net zero through Carbon Capture, Utilisation and Storage (CCUS).
This is the favoured option for oil companies, because it allows business as usual – but CCUS currently accounts for 0.1 per cent of emissions, with no rapid rise in capacity expected. I remain convinced that taxes on carbon (or directly on fossil fuels) offer the only realistic path away from catastrophe – and that the obstacle is not a lack of public, or even in most cases business, support, but the depressingly low standards of global leadership.
Noam Chomsky tells us: “If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world.”
Whether in China, Australia, the USA, or the UK, the change we need most is in the example of morality and personal behaviour set by those at the top – unlocking hope, and action, for us all.