Essay/Richard Hermann: Copping out on climate change

Richard Hermann
Richard Hermann

The COP26 summit brought parties together to boost action toward the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Anticipation of the Glasgow meeting raised expectations that the 197 nations present would actually achieve something concrete that would keep global warming from exceeding 1.5 C (2.7 F).

It was not to be. The U.N. report on COP26 paints a far rosier picture of what was actually achieved than a realistic assessment supports. It borders on irresponsibility, because it claims that “the Glasgow Climate Pact keeps 1.5 alive.” After that opening statement, everything that follows must be taken with an ocean of salt. COP26’s failure means that the world must turn to another strategy. More on that below.

Glasgow attendees heard a great deal of soaring rhetoric from world leaders about the gravity of the problem; however, nothing resulted beyond the usual pledges of billions of dollars of transfer payments to developing nations staring the devastating effects of climate change square in the face. Nice words, but if the past is any indicator, words will speak volumes louder than any follow-up actions. The lofty rhetoric of world leaders was just that. Real action was nowhere to be found.

Glasgow glossed over some of the core climate change issues. For example, nothing was said about carbon capture. Similarly, the world’s nations were silent about nuclear power, an essential transitional energy source if we are to phase out fossil fuels and move to renewables.

The leaders of two of the world’s foremost greenhouse gas polluters — China and Russia — did not even bother to attend COP26. Absent presidents Xi and Putin, the conference outcomes border on the meaningless.

Without itemizing the pledge particulars, suffice it to say that the planet can no longer limit temperature rises to 1.5 C since the Industrial Revolution by the target date of 2030. The political will to do that simply does not exist. Temperatures are certain to smash through that barrier, which climate scientists have earmarked as the point of no return. Once crossed, what that means is that the climate will be out of control.

COP26 was full of “urgings,” but not much that was tangible or enforceable. Telling was a statement in the official Glasgow report: “Countries have raised their ambition ...” This may be the finest example of diplomatic clap-trap in history.

As in the previous 25 climate conferences, Glasgow kicked the can down the road once again. Going into Glasgow, half of the world’s major economies had not even met their previous 2015 Paris Agreement goals. There are no sanctions for these failures, not even a gentle tap on the wrist.

With this non-approach, the 1.5 goal is now permanently out of reach. Natural disasters — more and greater storms, floods, forest fires, mudslides, droughts, heat waves, et al. — will reach unheard-of intensity. Entire communities will be swallowed up by rising seas. Crop yields will decline. Water shortages will become more widespread. Population displacement will affect millions of people. The world will be forced to deal with this destruction accompanied by enormous increases in the costs of cleanup and in lives and livelihoods lost.

Add to the climate chaos that many nations have been over-reporting their carbon savings, a fact that came to light in Glasgow, but did not make it into the U.N. report. There are no sanctions for climate reporting fraud.

What this all means is that it is time to turn attention from halting and reversing global warming to mitigation. In other words, learning to live and cope with climate change and the escalating havoc it will inflict. Translated, that means constructing barriers against rising sea levels in places like lower Manhattan, vastly increasing federal and state budgets for agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and National Guard, enacting laws restricting residential construction in places highly prone to forest fires and beach erosion, and encouraging “climate migration” from areas at high risk to safer locales.

Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.

This article originally appeared on MPNnow: Essay/Richard Hermann: Copping out on climate change