Faith Tested: Deep Throat and Zombie Credits in Glasgow.
by Ahti Tolvanen, CUSJ Delegate to COP26
It began on Halloween.
I was pleased to be the sole representative, of Canadian Unitarians and CUSJ on site- as well as at meetings on the COP Interfaith Liason Committee. I was also honored to accept an invitation to attend a vigil, one of a series, during the weeks of COP 26, as a guest of local Friends which occured at Glasgow Quaker Meeting House.
Finance clearly is the white elephant driving the climate crises. It is not effectively addressed at the COPs and is generally a topic which people avoid or are bored by- which is why it is killing them and us.
Mark Carney’s announcement Nov. 3rd 2021 of new commitments by global financial institutions for over 130 trillion USD in financing to help countries and companies reach net zero came like a breath of fresh air to a COP which was starting to seem unpromising.
As covid 19 restrictions caused long queues, and the absence of many developing country and island state representatives called into question the expection of “the most accessible of COPS” some might be forgiven for thoughts of flying home early.
In announcing the extensive financing program of The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero and affiliates, GFANZ, the former governor of the Banks of England and Canada remarked, aptly citiing Greta Thuneberg, the announcement was not just “blah, blah blah”.
A sum as large as 130 trillion is serious money, even if invested over 30th years. Carney pointed out that this would amount to about 2 per cent of the GDP of the major industrial nations every year until 2050.
He did not mention however, if this would end the mounting financing streams from private banks to fossil fuel burning energy industries which includes 3.8 trillion in investments by 60 major banks just since the Paris COP in 2015.
Added to that are all kinds of incentives by governments around the world for the burning and extraction of more fossil fuels, including China, USA, Canada, Poland, Russia, Norway, Saudi Arabia and Australia, to name a few.
Over thirty years the GFANZ investment flows might roughly amount to 4.5 trillon USD yearly which is at least as much as is now being invested into greenhouse gas emitting industries.
As all major industrialised countries are envisioning economic growth rates which are conventionally expected to come in at 2 % or better, most of the GFANZ investments would seem to be flowing into new growth rather than replacing industries releasing greenhouse gases..
In fact, the importance of new growth was specifically highlighted by Carney in his announcement speech.
This will get us to a world economy which will have roughly doubled in just over 30 years, even if the population remains the same. A growing global economy, even fueled by alternative energy, can still be a highly destructive entity, just like the aircraft carrier powered by green energy.
The projected growth is what one would expect as far as conventional economic thinking goes. Politicians and bankers who do not support growth are hard to find. Growth is the only answer they have for all the debt that has been accumulating on their books since before the last economic crisis and building back from covid has only added to it.
We need a way to transfer all that debt onto the blue side of the balance sheet as preserved natural and human capital. To clearcut a forest which is drawing down CO2 and supporting a briodiverse web of life and commodify it into paper and lumber is becoming ever more clearly a losing proposition. If we can’t do better than that we will be dealing with a multiple environmental catastrophe much beyond the climate crisis.
I wrote the above soon after my arrival in Glasgow during the second week of the conference. Then came the dramatic closing days of the COP 26.
The most dramatic moment was perhaps as COP President Alok Sharma broke down in tears (for a moment) when the Indian delegate insisted on ammending wording in his proposal from ”phase out” coal to ”phase down”.
The Indian representative argued that climate change was due to excessive consumption by developed countries and that India needed fossil fuels to develop. He was surely thinking of the millions in his country still struggling to rise out of poverty, as were the representatives of China and South Africa who backed him.
To aid developing countries adjust and develop non-fossil energy a proposal was made to create a Green Fund to which $100 billion annually would be donated by developed countries. This had been on the COP books since Copenhagen, but has remained unfunded and was moved for finalization to the next COP in Egypt in 2022.
Drafting was finally completed on the parts of Article 6 of the Paris Treaty which would allow companies and governments in develped countries to obtain emission credits for investing in emission-cutting projects in poorer countries. Jonathan Crook of Carbon Market Watch told me he was worried that opportunities for double counting were not all eliminated in the new wording. Nor were the flawed “zombie” credits created under the Kyoto COP. Much seems to rest on the composition of the proposed supervisory body to prevent Article 6 from becoming the leak which NGOs feared would sink the Paris Agreement once profit-seeking traders moved in.
I expected Brazil to be more active in watering down Article 6. I wondered if I had played a small part in this when I took the opportunity to leak a new and damning report on destruction of the Amazon. A stranger left a copy on the table I was working at outside the press room. He disappeared before I saw that the report was marked for release two days hence. I immediately sent it out to my mailing list along with an item on the Scientists Warning, a think tank which first started sounding the alarm on the climate crises to decades ago.
Perhaps the main achievement for which Glasgow will be remembered is the finalization of a set of global rules to standardize emissions reporting to provide credibility and comparability to reporting of cuts at the national level. This is essential to make the COP process work; the impact remains to be seen.
As another COP ended, one again naturally reflects on whether there was any significance to one’s attendance there. Were the daily nose swabs and the weekly deep throat samples worthwhile?
There is no way to really know for sure if a shared document, a question to a minister or one’s part in a side event means much. But clearly a COP without NGO involvment and citizen engagement would be an altogether different affair. That engagement is what drives any progress and moves the talks out of looming impasses. Perhaps more could have been accomplished in Glagow were it not for the covid motivated limitations on observers and difficult live access to plenaries and working groups.
The lack of significant announcements to cut emissions further by leading emitters like China, or coal and oil exports by Australia and Norway, was disappointing. At this stage of the crises such signal announcements are overdue. An announcement by Prime Minister Trudeau on implementation of emission taxes on the fossil fuels industry was overshadowed, immediately after COP 26, by mass arrests of aboriginal protesters opposing a pipeline on the Pacific coast.
The Potential Significance Of Faith Groups
As the vast majority of the world’s people identify with one faith or another, faith groups are a powerful latent force for change. If they can find a voice. Loss and Damage reparations for destructive climate events was a key issued raised by faith groups, with special concern expressed for the growing plight of small island states threatened by rising seas. Unfortunately the wealthy states, incudind the USA, were not willing to move ahead on this.
To be relevant in the context of the current historic ecocrises faith groups like ours need to reshape themselves as communities outside the mainstream. The struggles against the slave trade and for religious freedom seemed to face insurmountable opposition in their day. But in the end that opposition was overcome and faith groups played a determining role in those transitions. A key ethos of faith communities is the the rejection of a preoccupation with material acquisition in a search for a life based on higher and more lasting values. Win or lose, such faith can give deep significance to our lives as we face the crises of our day.
A memorable personal moment was attending a memorial to Stuart Scott on a bridge over the Clyde On that cloudy day his ashes were sprinkled into the river. Stuart had been convening side events as the COP liaison for the Faith and Science Initiative, as well as Scientists Warning for almost a decade when I first volunteered as his press assistant in Paris in 2015. Stuart passed away due to spinal cancer in July 2021. Stuart was a servant of the cause, win or lose as he continued to prepare for COP 26 during his very last days.
One of my projects at COP 26 was to assist with a side event to release the fourth Scientists Warning statement. Chaired by Ed Gemmell, this event was a relative success. It included a proposal to replace GDP with a saner model to measure human well being. Its efficacy, and indeed that of the whole COP process, will be determined by the success of the growing movement to raise awareness of how human welfare is elementally connected to a harmonious relationship with the natural world. Will this tide of awareness rise in time to stop the fateful march of biodiversity loss?
And heal a world that humans are impacting with harmful consequences reaching far beyond climate?
Twelfth Night, January 2022
P.S. Of course, I came writing this with all of my own opinions, thoughts, and biases based on the reality that I am a retired white male who has lived in both Europe and Canada, with experience in the financial sector, and as academic and a professional journalist, who has been highly involved in climate activism since Earth Day 1970. These are what I believe to be the relevant facts we need to understand what did and didn’t happen at COP 26.