Business, Cop26, Jeremy Warner

Business, Cop26

This Cop26 fiasco threatens to leave Britain humiliated

'So underwhelming is the summit predicted to be that some leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, say they won't be going'

10/22/2021 12:39:00 PM

'So underwhelming is the summit predicted to be that some leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, say they won't be going'

Any summit that doesn't include credible commitments from the main sinner, China's Xi Jinping, is going to be a largely pointless affair

It’s not just that bin collectors and train drivers have announced strike action to coincide with the event, that you cannot get a hotel room for love or money, or that with delegates and media flying in from all over the world, the conference threatens to be a giant Covid superspreader event.

Troubling though these issues might be from a reputational perspective, they would soon be forgotten if the breakthrough on climate change commitments the Government once hoped for could be achieved. This, unfortunately, seems ever less likely. Insiders speak of little or no meaningful progress, with the conference widely expected to go down as just another staging post, rather than the historic, global settlement once promised.

So underwhelming is the summit predicted to be that some leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, say they won't be going. Others cite Britain’s soaring Covid infection rate as an excuse for absenting themselves.It wouldn’t matter if China’s President Xi Jinping were to turn up with concrete proposals for transforming the world’s biggest polluter into a carbon neutral economy, but this seems about as likely as a month of Sundays. Xi hasn’t left the country for nearly two years now, an absence from the world stage which is officially put down to China’s strict Covid policies, but is rather more plausibly explained by the current breakdown in relations with the United States and other Western democracies.

The feast without President Xi will look odd indeed, for unless there are firm commitments from China, and more importantly, a credible plan for achieving them, all other efforts will be in vain. Xi hasn’t yet definitely ruled himself out, so there is still a remote chance of Boris carrying the day, but it is not looking good.

There are plenty of holes in the strategy the UK announced this week for achieving net zero, but it was at least a strategy – “world beating”, one might even say. But the field is not exactly a competitive one; the difficulty is persuading others to join the chase. There is a growing mismatch between Britain’s pursuit of a carbon free economy, and the international effort, which despite fine words is in many cases just a charade.

A leak of preparatory Cop26 documents to the BBC shows strong pushback against climate change goals from countries with a vested interest in fossil fuels, meat production, and some of those expected to cough up the money to help the developing world make the transition.

In an impact assessment published this week, the UK Treasury manfully attempted to argue that the economic opportunities of pursuing net zero outweigh its costs, and even that it will provide a substantial boost for the UK economy. Up to a point, there may be some truth in the contention. A long standing structural weakness in the UK economy is too much consumption, not enough investment. The very high levels of investment needed to meet climate change commitments might partially correct this imbalance.

More money spent on investment, on the other hand, means less money for consumption; it means this generation making sacrifices for the next. That’s never going to be an easy sell for democratically elected governments. If it goes wrong, moreover, the investment will destroy wealth, rather than create it.

Therein lies the nub of the problem. Britain is 1 per cent of global emissions; if nobody else is serious about reducing their’s, what’s the point in us doing it?We can lead – and indeed are pressured to do so in penance for the supposed sin of initiating the great leap forward in living standards brought about by the industrial revolution – but others have to make greater sacrifices still, or whatever we do is just spitting against the wind.

Trail blazers can seek to protect their industries from the high transitional costs of net zero with carbon border taxes and government subsidy, but this would only further antagonise the lagards, undermining the international cooperation needed to make progress.

In the meantime, Boris’s needy use of the climate change agenda to carve out a new global leadership role for Britain is seriously compromising other foreign policy goals. We hold back in our criticism of China in part because without China, the pursuit of net zero is dead in the water.

Read more: The Telegraph »

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