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2021 was a critical year for climate. 2022 will be even bigger

The commitment of climate activists is expected to increase in 2022. : Ivan Radic, Flicker The commitment of climate activists is expected to increase in 2022. : Ivan Radic, Flicker

Even if the promises made at COP26 were implemented, it won’t be enough to stop catastrophic warming. 2022 is a chance to take climate action a step further.

By Emma Shortis, RMIT University

2021 was a critical year for climate policy and diplomacy. Some of the world’s biggest emitters announced new, ambitious climate targets: the European Union, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Canada, India and the United States built on commitments already made by China and Japan.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) flagged a ‘code red for humanity’, focussing hope for genuine, concerted action on the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) held in Glasgow in November.

Despite all that invested hope, COP26 is not likely to solve the ‘wicked problem’ of climate change. Glasgow produced important outcomes, such as an agreement to curb methane emissions, but leaders didn’t do the job they had set themselves in Paris in 2015: they didn’t ensure that global warming would be limited to ‘well below’ 1.5 degrees.

They did make more promises to cooperate. In the dying days of the summit, the world’s biggest emitters — the US and China — made the surprise declaration that they would work together to try and achieve that 1.5 degree goal, through regular meetings of a new joint working group.

That agreement is an important step, but more so for diplomacy than for the climate. Some analysts suggest climate could still become yet another arena of tension in an already rocky relationship, as the US and China compete over ‘green’ markets and technology.

Questions remain, too, over US President Joe Biden’s commitment to renewed global leadership on climate. At COP26, American negotiators may have talked big about climate action, but behind closed doors, some claim their long tradition of recalcitrance and the pursuit of calculated self-interest continued.

When it comes to the role of the US, the future looks much the same. The administration’s continued willingness to support the extraction and burning of fossil fuels makes it extremely unlikely that American ‘leadership’ will come to the rescue of the climate.

The far-reaching influence of the US makes concerted global action on climate much less likely. In turn, that means the global geopolitics of climate and energy transition will not be straightforward. If the transition is not carefully planned and managed, it is likely to be extremely disruptive.

Current attempts to manage that transition look familiar: they are overwhelmingly dominated by Western commitment to current global economic and power structures. The complex, technocratic maze of pledges, schemes and mechanisms represent, as some political ecologists have recently argued, “the corporate-friendly, market-based regime that has dominated climate politics for decades”.

It means that 2022 is shaping up to be an even more important year for climate than the last.

Next year, all eyes will be on Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for COP27. Every nation is tasked with bringing more ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets. They will do so in the shadow of not one, but three new IPCC reports.

The signs so far are that COP27, just like COP26, will further expose the power imbalance in climate diplomacy, and continue to sideline and ignore Indigenous voices. Changes will be incremental. Pace will be glacial. Despite the frustrations, the COP meetings are, at least for now, the only global mechanism that we have to act on climate, and they are achieving something — even if that is only creating space for action rather than compelling it.

Hope isn’t, and can’t, be lost.

Climate hope in 2022

2022 is a milestone year in the history of climate politics. It will mark 50 years since the first ever global conference on the environment: the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden. It will have been 30 years since the Rio Summit, which adopted the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, and 25 years since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, the first legally binding emissions reduction agreement.

Critical hope, not naïve hope, is to be found in the efforts being built upon in 2022.

In the European Union, they are using the considerable economic and diplomatic influence of the 27 member states to reshape trading relationships and supply chains.

Voices from other regional and civil society organisations, especially in the Pacific and Caribbean, are becoming louder and more insistent.

In Australia, states and regional authorities are leading the way, picking up slack where the federal government has failed.

South Africa’s world-leading transition away from reliance on coal-fired power is already underway, and may well become a model for the rest of the world.

Globally, finance is shifting as the monetary incentives for investing in clean energy transition increase. Although that approach comes with significant risk, too: if fattening the wallets of climate billionaires becomes the focus, it may be harder to ensure the transition is done right.

The commitment of climate activists will only increase, as will global scrutiny of the gap between climate pledges and actual policy. The narrative battle around the “energy crisis” will heat up, because more will be at stake.

Looking towards 2030, the end of this most critical decade, it will become increasingly obvious that COP meetings are part of a much bigger architecture; of action at the local and regional levels, continued efforts to centre First Nations voices, and the overarching transformational agenda of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

We can find hope not in feel-good stories of individuals taking their own isolated actions. Not in ‘technology not taxes’ or in billionaire investors. But in communities, big and small, acting together in pursuit of a liveable planet for all.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™. 

Dr Emma Shortis is a Research Fellow at the European Union Centre of Excellence in the Social and Global Studies Centre at RMIT University. She declared no conflicts of interest.

Emma Shortis’ research draws on a project funded by a Jean Monnet Award from the European Union’s Erasmus Plus program.

Authors
Emma Shortis, RMIT University
Editor
Reece Hooker, 360info
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