Glasgow Climate Pact: Centre's Quarterly Magazine Reflects On This Moment In Time

The 26th convention of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) ended late Saturday (Nov 15) with a new UN climate deal, after over 100 countries unanimously adopted the 'Glasgow Climate Pact'. Following COP21 in Paris 2015 Glasgow sets another milestone in UN-led global cooperation. While the advantages, challenges, and frustrations of the complex process are publicly debated, a gap between the urgency felt in wide strands of social movements, civil society and among vulnerable states, and a time-consuming bureaucratic and diplomatic process at the conference's negotiation tables seemed only to widen.

Research at the Centre has been focused on this process since its establishment in 2012, and scholars from the Centre were present in Glasgow. Since COP26 marks a critical juncture in climate governance, a special issue of the Centre's Quarterly Magazine reflects on this moment in time with contributions from experts in the field, all of them written during the Glasgow conference. Lauren Eastwood, Senior Researcher and Policy Field Convener for Climate Change and Sustainability Policy at the Centre, is the guest editor of this special issue.

Eastwood has attended approximately 50 UN meetings pertaining to climate, biological diversity, and Indigenous Peoples during the last two decades. Talking about tensions between activists' expectations and the reality of climate policy negotiations, she concludes, 'I have learned to see these disjunctures not as irrational aberrations that need to be explained away, but as representative of contradictions that are deeply embedded in our current social organization.' Nevertheless, she asks that pressing and lasting question: 'Why do policy makers fail to act when the science is clear?'

Lauren Eastwood: Global Cooperation Research and Climate - Angles for Shedding Light on Complex Problems

One of the less obvious results of the COP26 is successful progress with the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF), which is about reporting standards and procedures. Compliance with those standards enable science, analysts, and the public to better compare NDCs, emission quantities and policies. This is about 'building mutual trust and confidence', but, as UN General Secretary António Guterres remarked in his COP26 speech, 'We need action if commitments are to pass the credibility test'. There seems to be a new and additional focus on the private sector here. Guterres highlighted a forthcoming, UN-backed body to expose greenwash from companies pledging to cut emissions without credible – or any – plans to meet them.

Regina Betz and Paula Castro provide a policy brief on 'Carbon Markets in a Net-Zero World'. They include emission reductions and negative emission technologies like CCS in their calculation, and they provide a lucid reflection on the interrelatedness of carbon markets and, subsequently, procedures to regulate them.

Regina Betz and Paula Castro:  Carbon Markets in a Net-Zero World – A Policy Brief

Emission reductions can be achieved by different means and climate engineering technologies are a much contested option to do this. A central argument, frequently raised against those solutions, is that they reduce societal perception of urgency by making certain parameters (of the ozone layer) look better, while emissions keep growing. Umberto Sconfienza uncovers underlying motives and possible scenarios for the use of Solar Radiation Management, a technique to reduce solar radiation by introducing aerosols into the stratosphere. His contribution reflects on 'moral hazard', contributing a perspective of political philosophy to the discussion.

Umberto Sconfienza: Talking Past Each Other On Moral Hazard in Solar Radiation Management Research

COP26 deliberations about 'Loss and Damage' provided a clear picture of the distribution of power at the conference and during those negotiations. A loss and damage financing facility, demanded by G77+ China, representing 130 nations and 85% of the world’s population, never made it into the final text, which now merely talks about a ‘dialogue’ and ‘arrangements’ that need to be made. Industrialized countries largely resist the idea of compensating lower income countries, for example small island states whose existence is already severely threatened, as they fear they will be made liable by international courts. We are especially glad to receive Andrea Schapper’s contribution, who is focusing on such 'Justice Claims and Human Rights Demands at COP 26'. She will also have a look at the structure of the conference, since civil society groups and state delegates from developing countries have expressed serious concerns regarding their opportunities to participate equally and meaningfully in the context of the UK's travel and COVID-19 regulations.

Andrea Schapper:  Justice and Human Rights Concerns at COP26 - The Whitest and Most Exclusive Climate Negotiations in Decades?

There was much dissatisfaction in Glasgow about a process that started in Berlin 1995 and is meanwhile progressing across transgenerational borders. This is the realm of cultural historian Franz Mauelshagen, an expert in climate history and the Anthropocene. His contribution relates the COP development to the main narratives in world politics since the 90s, namely neo-liberalism and re-nationalization with much discussed shifts in the value — or currency — of multilateralism. Mauelshagen especially highlights the ambiguous 'magic' of NDCs. His verdict: Under conditions of re-nationalization, 'NDCs have detached political action on climate change from science'.

Franz Mauelshagen:  The Waning of Neoliberalism - Global Climate Governance in Transition

COP26 was the site of remarkable side events. There was a 4-days People's Summit and a constant flow of happenings, get-togethers and online-campaigns. There was much appreciation of all of this inside the COP26 zone, a 'Youth Day', a Barack Obama lauding German FFF activist Luisa Neubauer, and a UN General Secretary, who, like many, seems to be much more comfortable with those folks: 'I am inspired by the mobilisation of civil society, by the moral voice of young people keeping our feet to the fire'. How are those messages communicated? How do activists themselves reflect on the efficiency of their visual representations, when it comes to action in the 'real world'? David Shim ('Imaging Cannot Be Separated From Imagining') together with Gijs de Vries contribute a practice theoretical reflection that adds to the Centre's interest in political narratives with a visual dimension and their topic is: Fridays for Future.

David Shim and Gijs de Vries:  '#UprootTheSystem – Exploring Fridays for Future’s Visual Climate Storytelling'

The conundrum of many contemporary developments is the fact that seemingly small details attain symbolic power and thereby move digital masses, social movements, portions of civil society and ultimately public discourse with a sense of urgency and alarm. The pandemic, the climate emergency. The remarkable change in perception over time. A statement by Johan Rockstöm, now four years ago, that in the 1980s we – as he said – may have told the wrong story. The urgency of climate change was only triggered, after the problem was associated with individual health. 'It shortens your life. Do you really want that? Is that a cool future? Why do you want a coal mine, a dirty risky job, a sector that kills people, a sector that shortens life … ?'. In a remarkable approach, Ayşem Mert links those contemporary worries – 'Corona, Glasgow, and Beyond' – to a reflection on fantasies and sources of the subconscious as motivating forces, especially in times of uncertainty. Psychic factors are interrelated with other (material, economic, moral) factors and may provide tipping points towards and inclination for stability or change.

Ayşem Mert:  Corona, Glasgow, and Beyond - Rethinking Environmental Politics Through the Lens of Critical Fantasy Studies

This rich bouquet of contributions also added to the Centre's Midterm Conference on 'New Avenues of Global Cooperation Research' with most of Quarterly authors participating. The Centre's Cooperadio podcast will continue the discussion during the upcoming weeks.