After COP26: The world needs climate cooperation, not a new Cold War

The COP26 regrettably failed to make the breakthrough towards establishing a new pathway for humanity that avoids a climate catastrophe. The UN scientific community considers it necessary to limit global warming below 1.5°C — however, even if all COP26 pledges were implemented, the world would still be on course for 2.4 °C of warming by the end of the century. 

The Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, outlined the stakes for humanity — particularly for the Global South, home to the world’s majority — should the current trajectory of global warming continue: 

For those who have eyes to see, those who have ears to listen, those who have a heart to feel, 1.5 [°C] is what we need to survive […] the world needs our action now, not in the next year, not in the next decade.

The COP26 has been widely criticised as a ‘Global North greenwashing festival,’ as wealthy, ‘developed’ nations attempted to offload their responsibility for the climate crisis onto the Global South, targeting China and India in particular. This effort to shift blame is not only cynical and offensive but wholly false. The Global North is overwhelmingly responsible for the climate crisis, having produced 92% of CO2 emissions above the safe planetary boundary. 

Meanwhile, the US attempted to use the COP26 to advance its new Cold War, with President Biden slamming China for ‘not showing up’ on the issue. In fact, the US has produced more CO2 emissions than any other country to date and continues to emit much more CO2 per person than any other major country. In 2020, the US emitted 14 tons of CO2 per person – nearly double the amount of China, which emitted 7.4 tons per person, and almost eight times the amount of India, which emitted 1.8 tons per person.

The US’s Cold War approach to international relations is a serious obstacle to solving the climate crisis. The annual budget of the US military — the world’s largest institutional polluter — has now surpassed US$750 billion per year, driven by Washington’s military build-up against China. Meanwhile, over the next decade, President Biden’s ‘Build Back Better’ plan has only proposed up to US$555 billion in climate spending. Instead of wasting huge resources on militarism and a dangerous new Cold War against China, the US should redirect them towards funding a green transition in the US and meet its obligations to provide climate finance and reparations for ‘developing’ countries. 

Despite this, the announcement of a US-China Joint Glasgow Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s does provide a potential basis for discussing and building steps towards an increase in climate action and global cooperation in the next decade. The establishment of a US-China Working Group is a welcome step forward and should work within the UN framework. This agreement between the US and China could not come soon enough. 

The Joint Declaration’s commitment to ‘taking enhanced climate actions that raise ambition in the 2020s in the context of the Paris Agreement’ with the aim ‘to hold the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5°C’, between the world’s two largest economies is very welcome. 

The importance that the Joint Declaration places upon ‘developed’ countries — which have historically contributed the most carbon emissions — to urgently meet their missed pledge of US$100 billion per year in climate finance to ‘developing’ countries is also welcome. Further, we note that, in order to enable climate adaptation and mitigation, far more funding is not only needed but historically owed to nations of the Global South — which have done the least to cause the climate crisis, yet are experiencing its most severe social, economic, and ecological losses and damages.

Though this Joint Declaration is but one stride towards meeting the larger demand for structural, impactful climate action, it provides a model of collaboration that can be built upon to address the pressing issues facing humanity including the pandemic, global poverty and economic development. 

The world needs global cooperation, not a new Cold War.