COP26 Promises and Pledges have yet to show any real action
“We will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian,” — British PM Boris Johnson
I am someone who is deeply invested in the outcomes of COP26 in Glasgow. My concerns are outlined in my book, Recipe for Survival (Cambridge University Press — out January 2022), which engages readers to understand what is at stake and also provide 20 tangible actions we can take right now to improve our own health and protect the environment.
It is an odd sensation to observe world leaders at COP26 seemingly congratulate themselves for making promises and pledges that they have yet to keep.
If history is a harbinger of things to come, then COP26 will result in pledges and promises that do not contain the actions that are needed to bring them to fruition.
For example, today, more than 100 global leaders pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030; and more than 30 financial institutions said they would make “best efforts” to eliminate deforestation related to cattle, palm oil, soy, and pulp production by 2025.
Yet, a similar commitment was made by 40 countries in 2014 as part of the New York Declaration of forests; only to result in more forest being lost since then. In fact, 258,000 square kilometers (99,600 square miles) of forest were lost around the world in 2020, an area larger than the UK. And, while the level of deforestation in the Amazon did come down marginally in 2021, it is still higher today than it has been since 2008.
Are these “best efforts?”
Making a pledge to end deforestation by 2030 sounds great on paper. However, 2030 is still more than eight years away, and that still leaves plenty of time for more forest to be cut down. That still leaves plenty of time to lose significant amounts of biological diversity. That still leaves plenty of time to lose significant soil moisture and carbon sinks that today, still absorb up to 30% of greenhouse gases that we spew out each year.
It is my view that promises should come with a set of tangible actions, tangible steps that delineate how to accomplish the stated goal. Without actionable steps, words — are at best — posturing and at worst, gas lighting us into inaction.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already stated, unequivocally, that climate change and its negative effects are being felt faster and more detrimentally than were anticipated.
It feels foolish, full of hubris, to think we can wait another eight years to really make meaningful progress towards preventing the worst effects of climate change.
Each year fires burn hotter, hurricanes grow stronger, weather becomes less predictable, and we continue to move in the wrong direction. What we see now — hunger, migration, weather extremes — will only worsen unless we make meaningful movement on fighting climate change; and pledges without action miss the mark.
We do not have an endless number of tomorrows to really begin this fight against climate change; not when we should have started it many yesterdays ago.
Rather than “trying out” 20 different pledges that do not have the thoughtful actions that are needed to achieve them, I would prefer to see a handful of meaningful targets that outline, in detail, the actions that will be taken to meet them.
Words are words, and actions speak louder than words.
Show the young people of the world your intentions, not with words, but with action.
Show the young people of the world that you care about the planet, and want to leave it as good, if not better for them, than the world you were brought up in.
We don’t need more words, we don’t need more empty promises, we don’t need posturing, we don’t need PR, and we definitely don’t need government officials trying to look good or save face.
What we need are actions that make a lasting difference, a positive difference.
While there have been many beautiful, meaningful, poignant, truthful words and speeches at COP26, the real commitments, the actions, are yet to be seen.
So please, show us how you plan to meet your stated commitments. Because without a game plan, without a roadmap, it’s really difficult to get to your destination.
For more information, on Recipe For Survival: and the upcoming book Recipe for Survival: What you can do to live a healthier and more environmentally friendly life.