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Jinping and now Putin cop out of Climate Summit

Can COP26 be successful without buy in from developing world?

By Ricky Browne

COP26 is set for Glasgow in less than two weeks – but its success is already looking doubtful, with the apparent decisions by the leaders of China and Russia to not attend the global climate summit.

Russia announced today that  President Vladimir Putin would not be attending the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference which is being hosted by the UK from Halloween to November 12. No reason was given.

Putin will be a no show

Russia is believed to be the world’s forth largest polluter – after China, the United States and India and just ahead of Japan and Germany. China had already indicated that its leader Xi Jinping would not be attending — though its possible that he could change his mind. An official announcement is expected tomorrow.

Concern over climate change is on the rise in the UK, where groups like Extinction Rebellion and others have held disruptive protests to increase awareness.

But while the UK is already doing much to contain its release of CO2 into the atmosphere – the idea of the planet warming and causing great environmental disruption might not be of the same concern to many other countries.

Will Xi Jinping be another no show?

It would appear that China, Russia and Australia belong to that group of countries. Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously announced that he may have better things to do that go to Glasgow for the summit – though Australia is one of the largest polluters per head and one of the largest producers of coal. Facing wide criticism, he later backtracked and said he would indeed attemd.

And Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also signalled that he might not attend.

India’s Narendra Modi is another potential no show

If it ends up that leaders from three of the world’s largest polluters do not bother to attend the conference, it really doesn’t bode well for any significant progress to be made.

With such large polluters seeming to indicate that climate change is no big deal, it will make it easier for several developing countries to also dial down their support – on the basis that economic growth for their population is more important than trying to restrain development for the sake of climate change.

Some developing countries may see an opportunity to see an increase in foreign aid and act accordingly by talking about how their existence is threatened while doing nothing to protect themselves.

Some countries like the Maldives – which as an extremely low lying country surrounded by the Indian Ocean — have been very vocal in their concern,. The country could vanish completely if ocean levels increase. In fact the country seems to have benefited from that idea in a sense, as it has been a leader in building luxury hotel rooms over the sea rather than on land. But how the rest of the country could exist with no land is another question.

Hotel rooms in the Maldives are protected from ocean level rising Photo: All.Accor

But countries that have no need to be concerned  directly about rising sea levels would probably rather focus on bringing their population more of the public utilities that people in the developed economies take for granted – more electricity, more internet, more water, more roads. And as they develop and create a larger middle class, those people would like to have a standard of living that is comparable to the middle classes in the developed world – more cars, more air conditioning, more heating, more flights.

Every country on Earth has been struck a hard blow by the Covid-19 pandemic – with countries in the developed world more capable of protecting their economies. Many of them are looking forward to exiting the pandemic and returning to normality. But countries in the developing world are still in the middle of this thing, and see no end in sight, with low rates of vaccination and little money to offer any significant protection to their people.

That means that their interest in using extremely limited funds to help protect the planet from climate change will be even lower than it would be in ‘normal’ times.

Could the Sahara become reforested?

As the developed world now sets about offering their vaccinated populations a third booster shot, other countries are languishing with very low rates of vaccination. Fortunately, levels of infection appear to be lower for many countries like Nigeria and Jamaica, where populations are younger and people are less likely to be inside. But who knows what the future will hold.

So while it is all well and good for the developed countries to try and reduce their global carbon footprint – it will be very hard to get many developing countries to restrain their own development and frustrate the aspirations of their own people.

But all is not lost – if there is green technology that exists that can allow these countries to leap frog old, dirty technology and energy systems to clean ones.

That may mean pushing for greater power for these countries via wind turbines, solar power and other renewable sources.

The planting of trees is considered vital to reducing the amount of excess CO2 – and many of these countries have ample land that is currently desert – think the Sahara for example. Can these countries be incentivised to ensure that their deserts are converted to forests.

A fire in the Amazon — but what happened to the forests in the developed world?

Many people are against Brazil appearing to tear down the Amazon forest, seen by some as the lungs of the world. But others think that Europe and North America used to have their own forests which they destroyed in their attempts to develop their economies – so why shouldn’t Brazil do the same thing.

So countries like Brazil and Indonesia and anywhere with a decent forest should be incentivised to protect and even grow their forests for the sake of the planet.

Adam Smith’s idea of enlightened self-interest might not work as efficiently as the developed world may hope – when several developing countries in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and Asia are looking to have the same standard of living as their Northern neighbours.

So guilt-tripping developing countries to be as fierce in their efforts as developed countries pretend to be, may not be effective.

Could the Canadian tundra become forested?

And that will even more likely be the case, when the developing countries see the leaders of Australia, Russia and particularly China not attend what many are billing as a crucial conference.

In the words of former Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga – “It takes cash to care”. And many of these countries will be happy to kick the can down the road, as they try to seek benefit from carbon-producing technology. The more developed countries turn away from petroleum, the cheaper petroleum should become – making it an attractive energy source, perhaps more attractive than more costly investments in green technology.

If climate change is a global problem that is equally affecting the whole planet, then it will need a global solution – which is difficult to achieve with a system that is divided into a multitude of nation states, each looking out for their own populations.

Progress will have to be built upon the idea of providing the developed world with affordable green technology – technology that is more affordable than the old fossil-fuel technology that the developed world built their wealth upon.

Greta Thurnberg

End result is that if the leaders of China, India and Russia don’t attend, COP26 may look like another talk shop, with a PR blitz designed to make environmentalists think that the winds of change are now blowing. That blitz is unlikely to convince many environmentalist groups, or indeed their teenage spokesperson Greta Thunberg – with continued protests in the very same countries that are taking Climate Change more seriously – but none in the counties that are the worst offenders.

Meanwhile, as the world turns and Earth warms up, and places that were previously frozen wastelands start to thaw, maybe efforts can be made to plant more trees in places like the Canadian Tundra and Antarctica.

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