COP26 President Alok Sharma gestures as he receives applause during the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain November 13, 2021. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
Well, that was a carbon-neutral plant-based nothingburger.
The 26th annual U.N. climate-change conference — that’s COP26, a “conference of the parties” in U.N.-speak — made for good theater. It put a lot of hours on a lot of private jets — Barack Obama, you have been cleared for takeoff — but it didn’t offer much in the way of meaningful new climate policy.
And that may be the best outcome that we could hope for.
If the real stakes were low, the drama was high. While the heads of government and climate activists traded pieties, Xi Jinping made a power move, declining to attend the conference at all — let Joe Biden do the hard work of pretending to give a damn about the Maldives. Beijing then swooped in at the last minute to steal the show — and the headlines — with a surprise bilateral accord with the United States.
That U.S.-China accord is typical of U.N. climate deal-making: It is a plan to have a plan — several of them, in fact. In this case, China is sticking to its existing plan for the near term — meaning that it will continue to increase rather than reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions through at least 2030 while promising to make more drastic cuts to emissions sometime in the coming decades. It has signed on to a vague commitment to “accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s” and to setting up a new U.S.-China climate-policy working group.
In terms of hard commitments to meaningful action, there’s not much there. China, currently responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, rejected meaningful curbs on its methane output, once again promising to come up with a plan . . . eventually. But, fear not: The statement declares that the two countries “recall their firm commitment to work together.” They rededicated themselves to “ambitious” action — “ambition” being the favorite word
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