Written by George Perry, November 2021
November 2021, and it’s time for another annual intergovernmental climate change conference, this time held in Glasgow – an industrial city in Scotland. As the main conference kicked off on a drizzly Monday amongst the concrete buildings, I couldn’t help but think how fitting this was for the task in hand. It is industrialisation that has got us to where we are today, forcing leaders to hold these annual meetings to see what actions people can take to combat climate change.
The World is Watching… And Waiting
It is at these times of international meetings, where global leaders and figureheads come together to have a giant pow-wow, that the world is watching with bated breath. The COP meetings are of particular importance as they are the one time when all of the leaders actually get together to try and achieve something on the issue, which is without a doubt the biggest danger to face humanity today.
However, these meetings are known to be notoriously fraught with difficulties, which is only magnified by some of the absurdities. To begin with, there is great irony in that the amount of carbon emissions produced by travelling to the meeting for resolving climate change is detrimentally contributing to it. I think the irony is not lost on most people. Nevertheless, many of attendees still chose to fly by private jet, both there and back.
They were the lucky ones. Many delegates couldn’t even make it to the summit because – you’ve guessed it – COVID. And I’m not talking about the Queen, I’m talking about delegates from many small island states in the Pacific – which is another irony because they’re the countries that effectively have the most to lose from the climate crisis. Incidentally, COVID is the same reason why the meeting was cancelled last year, only serving to add more pressure and expectations to this one.
There are, of course, some people who did not attend, but through choice. Most notable absences being from China and Russia – the former now responsible for the largest proportion of global emissions (albeit USA remains cumulatively the highest). Otherwise, 120 leaders and heads of state did all descend on the relatively small city of Glasgow, for just a few days.
There are actually 196 nation states that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), so this means that the Glasgow conference was down 66. Is that really enough to make agreements on combatting climate change? By this stage, I think we all recognise that we’re in it together – we need a commitment from everyone if it’s going to work. So, actually turning up would be an advantage.
The Numbers Game
Whilst we’re talking numbers, let’s think about COP26 and what that really means. The number in the title signifies the amount of annual meetings they’ve had to discuss and come to an agreement. Last year was postponed, so going back 27 years takes us back to 1994… Wow, has it taken them that long to agree on anything? (If they have even managed to agree -- *spoiler alert: they haven’t).
1994? That is when the Hugh Grant romcom Four Weddings and a Funeral was all the rage, with its title track – Love is All Around, by Wet Wet Wet – topping the charts for an agonising 15 weeks. it never equalled the record of longest time spent in the top spot, which is 16 weeks and the maximum time allowed, as the band famously made the decision themselves to have the song deleted from the charts (to then be immediately replaced by Saturday Night, by Whigfield – an earworm which I often still hum to myself on a weekly basis, even after all these years).
Apparently, BoyZone, East 17, and Take That were all a thing in 1994, too. But I digress, there were other, bigger things happening in 1994 than the musical successes of boy bands and soft-rock crooners Wet Wet Wet – albeit, coincidentally, they did hail from Glasgow.
Actually, whilst the commencement of the of the UNFCCC did indeed occur in 1994 (a trebly wet year), the first COP meeting didn’t even happen until a year later in 1995 – COP1 in Berlin, Germany – and that’s how we’ve got to COP26 this year (if you also discount last year).
This means that it took three years to even get the first meeting on climate change off the ground, as the launch meeting was in Rio de Janeiro, in 1992. If it took them that long to get started, then you can imagine the kinds of diabolical progress they’ve made so far.
From Then to Now
They used to give climate change conferences cool names. Back in 1992 the original climate change meeting was called the ‘Earth Summit’, or formerly the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With that kind of tagline, you can imagine the huge air of optimism that surrounded the Rio Earth summit. Indeed, by the end of the conference it was widely hailed as a success.
These days it seems they’ve given up. The message seems clear: this isn’t meant to be a party, far from it, it’s a Conference of Parties. They no longer give the meetings exciting names; they just call them COP followed by a bland number. But at least the number serves as a blatant reminder of how many of them they’ve had, contrasted to the amount of successful outcomes.
At the Rio Earth Summit back in 1992, along with some other key outcomes, they created a secretariat to manage the UNFCCC, as well as deciding on the framework agreement itself. It was considered a huge triumph, and a ground-breaking achievement for environmental stewardship.
However, it then took two years for the UNFCCC to even come into force (and another year to even hold their first meeting), and there was also a major problem: it did not legally bind signatories to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It also did not provide any targets or timetables for doing so. Albeit, as part of the framework agreement, it did mandate that world leaders must meet frequently to discuss and agree on targets, and that’s how we’ve arrived at the 26th edition this year.
It took until 1997 to actually agree on a legally binding agreement to combat climate change – called the Kyoto Protocol – you’ve probably heard of it. It came at COP3, also sometimes referred to RIO+5; so that’s five years down the line before anything happened. You can probably see where this is leading.
Give it another few years, and by 2001 the Kyoto Accords had fallen apart – mostly because the USA withdrew its support. By 2005 the Kyoto Protocol had finally taken effect, but only by those countries who were signatories. And so, by 2007 there were plans afoot to come up with a solution that would truly rope in all countries; something that would work. Only a slight problem is the clock had been ticking all along, with climate change effectively getting worse as the years went by.
The Current Situation
Fast forward to 2015, with not much in between, and the leaders, at last, ratified the Paris Agreement – finally! This is an agreement that all countries, including China and USA, could get on board with, and something that may actually work. It met with a bump in the road when the next elected President of the USA withdrew immediately, but the subsequent President went straight back in.
So, we’re all good now; sort of. The notable absence of China’s leaders from this year’s COP is of concern, albeit including the 11th Hour agreement between China and USA (the world’s two biggest polluters) to work together to reduce emissions. Whilst the pact between two nations came as a welcome surprise, critics remained wary as lacking any real substance.
Typically, the problem with climate change agreements is that what is decided in the conference hall by negotiators ends up being different to what is delivered. Often, countries will not stick to their targets, or pull out altogether. Whether intentional or not, the point being there is little that can be done if a country does not keep to the agreements made at the COPs – it is essentially done on a basis of trust.
Another problem is that things get agreed in principle, but then adding details for action gets stalled and delayed. The purpose of COP26 was commonly understood to have been about ‘putting the flesh on the bones’ of the Paris Accords, yet from 2015 until now – six years - nothing had been agreed upon. What is it about these meetings that causes stagnation? It feels like whatever is going on behind those closed doors must be Groundhog Day in there, yet Bill Murray is nowhere in sight.
We all know that the content of what they’re discussing in the climate conferences is complicated and of great significance, so for that reason I don’t envy them, and I’m certainly not attempting to trivialise the situation. We also know that it isn’t just political leaders who gather to make the agreements. There are 1000s of people who work in the background to advise on the negotiating positions. However, it is ultimately down to the leaders to make those critical decisions.
Are Leaders Making the Right Decisions?
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Successful leaders recognise that leadership has moved on from being authoritative, hierarchical and pacesetting, to becoming one that is distributed and is underpinned by an ethical, caring, sustainable, and performance enhancing culture. We believe that only leaders who demonstrate that they are both emotionally intelligent and can lead beyond their ego will be the ones that are equipped to make the right decisions.
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It’s Time to Move Forward
There is no doubt that the nature of discussions held at COP26 were tough, and they are also of dire consequences. Nevertheless, it just seems that after 26 years of holding these meetings they ought to have come to an effective agreement and moved forward by now. The world is only suffering as we watch and wait. This begs the question: Are the leaders doing it right?
This is certainly something to consider, and from our position we would be looking at their leadership styles and recommending that they adopt the Transpersonal Leadership which is effectively an eco-systemically intelligent approach. Our Open Global Program is designed to enable leaders to become more productive, agile, and sustainable.
If you feel like you’re ready to become a better leader and would like to find out more, take a look at our inaugural Open Global Program to start your journey towards leading beyond the ego.