PD Editorial: The world punts another year on climate change

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

Delegates, climate advocates and journalists from around the world have returned home from Scotland after two weeks of strategizing, compromising and covering talks about how nations can unite to curb the ravages of climate change. Unfortunately, it was the compromise of principles that stood out.

The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow — called COP26 because it is the 26th Conference of the Parties — opened with high hopes. Leaders urged participants to find a way to keep global average temperature increases to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit). Scientists have pegged that as a threshold to prevent many of the direst consequences of climate change.

Despite the need to act quickly, COP26 nations could agree only to a mostly aspirational plan. Under the Glasgow climate pact, countries promise to cut greenhouse gas emissions, end deforestation and finance adaptation to changing climate, among other things.

Promises are great, but the pact has no firm targets nor consequences for coming up short. Each country is supposed to return in a year with ambitious pledges and plans. In other words, they’ve kicked the can down the road and squandered at least one more year as the world hurtles toward climate catastrophe.

Nations also bickered about who should pay for fighting climate change and mitigating its impacts. Wealthy nations never delivered on a past promise to provide $100 billion annually in aid to developing ones. Now they are promising even more money. Again, promises.

Some gains worth noting, though. For the first time, COP nations formally acknowledged that fossil fuels are the primary cause of climate change. They called for weaning the world off fossil fuels, though the final language was watered down after India insisted on some changes.

Especially promising was the fact that the United States returned to the global negotiations on climate change after four years of President Donald Trump ignoring the peril and America’s role in creating it. The United States and China pledged to work together, though whether they actually do will test both nations’ ability to put the greater good first.

In closing remarks, the British politician who served as COP26 host president shared some hope, albeit tempered by reality. “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action.”

For now, that rapid action is more likely to come out of states than the federal government. A narrowly divided Congress in which even Democrats are not unanimous about steps to take to fight climate change prevents national measures. Many states therefore act on their own, and California is preeminent among them. And well it should be. Climate change already exacerbates wildfires, floods and droughts. Californians know what is at stake.

California sent a delegation to Glasgow, and the North Bay was well represented. Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins served on a panel. Ellie Cohen, the CEO of the Climate Center, which is based in Santa Rosa, was on hand. And Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, attended with other members of Congress. Hopefully they brought back new insights and ideas.

COP26 did not deliver as much as many had hoped, but there is a path forward. Whether Glasgow marks a turning point will depend on the success of all nations doing their part.

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Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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