November 18, 2021
The Glasgow Climate Pact has finally been agreed, but not without causing the top negotiator to weep over our inability to agree on even the most basic measures. We are seeing a deluge of analyses looking for the positive aspects of this high-stakes negotiation. And, granted, there are some to be found. Although the wording has been considerably watered down, the announced end of fossil energy funding is an achievement that will change fiscal policy. That is no small victory. And yet, simply sending a signal is not enough.
We need to set a clear, unmovable timeline – this is the only way to change economic decisions. As I write these words, in October, we are seeing that even when an exit goal has already been entered into law, it can still be called into question and undermined. For instance, the President of France has just announced a new nuclear power investment programme despite the Law for Energy and Climate deciding on a gradual phasing-out of nuclear power plants. Also, in Belgium, a 2003 law planned the closure of all reactors by 2025 (after 40 years of operation for each one). This envisioned timeline was intended to make it possible to invest large sums into renewable energy and reduce consumption. And yet it is becoming clear that energy needs will not be met, leading to discussion of extensions, imports, and new gas energy plants to secure supply.
So while it is necessary to set a clear exit date, this is not sufficient. Not having mechanisms to enforce a deadline sends a message that the question is still on the table and that it remains subject to change.
Just as with every COP, cities were present, committed and showed their willingness to transform their localities and rise to the challenge. They are undeniably diplomatic players. They have the ability to organise international solidarity, without which no progress can be made. They have the ability to design carbon-neutral cities and to enforce fossil fuel exit dates. And in the end, they will be the ones who will have to address the fallout of these imperfect agreements.
But the final agreements are not the only benefit of a COP. It is a unique system – not only the conference itself, which is the main event, but also the preparation phase – that involves creating a shared vision of the issues at hand, listening to different perspectives and building alliances. Indeed, it is a synecdoche of humanity itself, a watershed moment in our shared history.
And in a volatile world, any moment, any place that fosters multilateral dialogue and negotiation is precious, very precious indeed.