The Guardian • Issue #1986

“Code red for humanity”: Glasgow Climate Summit

  • by Anna Pha
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1986

“Two cultures are under discussion here: the culture of life and the culture of death; the culture of death, which is capitalism. We, the Indigenous peoples, say that it is living better, better at the cost of others.” These are the words of then-President of Bolivia, Evo Morales (the only Indigenous government leader), at the 2009 Climate Summit, spoken from the heart and based on reality.

“Mother Earth or Nature exist and will continue to exist without the human race, but human beings can’t live without planet Earth, therefore, it is our duty to defend the right of Mother Earth.

“We have profound differences with the Western model, and that is under discussion at this moment. […] [O]ur obligation is to save all of humanity and not half of humanity,” Morales said.

These differences remain and have become even greater since 2009.

“You may as well bomb our islands instead of making us suffer, witnessing our slow and fateful demise,” Palau President Surangel S Whipps Jnr told the Glasgow Summit. In those few words Whipps summed up the desperation felt by small Pacific Islands and a number of other developing countries.


The rich G20 countries, responsible for more than eighty per cent of human-made emissions met on the eve of the Summit. They failed to deliver. The best they could offer was a vague commitment to net zero emissions by the middle of the century. Australia was the main stumbling block in reaching a consensus around stronger goals.

In the opening session at Glasgow, COP26 executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Patricia Espinoza, expressed disappointment with the G20.

Espinoza said, “we either choose to achieve rapid and large-scale reductions of emissions to keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees – or we accept that humanity faces a bleak future on this planet.

“We either choose to recognise that business as usual isn’t worth the devastating price we are paying and make the necessary transition to a more stable sustainable future – or we accept that we’re investing in our own extinction.”

For the G20 it would appear to be “business as usual” if they are not forced to change.


The position of the G20 is in stark contrast to that of the developing countries.

Nicaragua did not mince words about the cause of the climate crisis – it is capitalism and its destructive models of production and consumption. It pointed out that the ten largest emitting countries are responsible for eighty-three per cent of emissions compared with the one hundred countries with lowest emissions causing three per cent.

Nicaragua echoed Morales’ references to Mother Earth, describing nature and human beings as a totality and rejected the commodification of mother earth. Like many developing nations, it also called for cooperative approaches. It emphasised the need for COP26 outcomes to be based on the “common but differentiated responsibilities”(CBDR) principle.

This principle, adopted by 197 countries at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 is based on the recognition that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. It considers that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of developing countries.

There were repeated calls for the developed countries to increase their ambition beyond a net zero solution by 2050.


Senior government figures from the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs), as parties to the UNFCCC, also held a preparatory meeting prior to the Summit in Thimphu, Bhutan. The LDC Group consists of around forty-six countries which disproportionately suffer from the increasing impacts of climate change. They represent over one billion people in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean. They called on the G20 countries in particular to enhance their commitments to achieve the 1.5°C goal by 2050.

They noted, “with serious concern, that developed countries are failing to meet their existing commitment to deliver US$100 billion per year by 2020, and thus far this finance has predominantly taken the form of loans rather than grants.” Loans only increase the indebtedness of countries which has risen during COVID and following extreme weather events.

An ambitious, new and quantified finance goal to take effect prior to 2025, based on science and driven by the needs and priorities of developing countries, particularly least developed countries, is needed.

The very existence of Small Pacific Islands is threatened. For them the Glasgow meeting might be the final opportunity. “Our sovereignty and very survival are at stake,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said.

“Failure isn’t an option,” said Tina Stege, the climate envoy for the Marshall Islands, much of which could be under water within fifty years.


People around the world have become more aware of the necessity for urgent action on climate change and the world’s youth have become vocal and more active around climate change. But very few governments have taken the necessary action. At the same time the pace of climate change has accelerated, as witnessed by the wildfires, droughts, floods, rising oceans and their acidification, melting of glaciers, and other extreme weather events.

The 2015 Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change that was adopted by 196 countries. It set a goal of limiting global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve that long-term goal, countries set Nationally Determined Targets for emission reductions by 2030 and to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century. Australia’s commitment was and remains a reduction of 26-28 per cent based on 2015 emissions by 2030.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) sixth assessment report released a few months ago highlighted the increased urgency for decisive action. (See Guardians #1974, #1975, #1976) It pointed out that the next ten years are critical, that the targets set at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are too low.


Under the UNFCCC, industrialised countries undertook to provide developing and less developed countries financial assistance for adaptation to and mitigation of climate change and to facilitate the transfer of the necessary technology to address climate change. This was considered an equitable and moral responsibility.

China is classified as a developing nation under the Convention but that does not prevent the likes of Prime Minister Scott Morrison from attacking the country for not reducing emissions more quickly. Morrison is not prepared to accept responsibility for Australia’s role as one of the richest countries and one of the largest polluters per capita in the world: this is a government, as environmentalist Bill McKibben describes it: “Australia is the most blatant example of a country that lets itself be ruled by its fossil fuel sector almost entirely and its role as a supplier of dirty carbon to much of the world is, at this point in human history, a shameful role.”

The Least Developed Countries group called for a strengthening of 2030 emissions targets and for these to reflect each country’s share of the global effort. Again McKibben: “Morrison is assigning other people to do it for him down the road rather than taking on the responsibility himself.” This is the government that had a Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who called climate change “crap”.


For the first time the IPCC reported that climate change is “unequivocally” human induced, with global temperatures likely to exceed 1.5C before 2040. The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres referred to this as a “code red for humanity” with the IPCC report saying that only with drastic and immediate cuts to greenhouse gas emissions can we avoid the worst of the projected impacts.

If global warming is to be limited to 1.5°C or even the upper limit of 2°C, now widely recognised as too low, then the total of accumulated emissions must be taken into consideration as well as ongoing new emissions. These two separate factors are critical to policy formulation. It is NOT enough to talk about zero-net emissions in a particular year. This will not be enough. Developed countries must not only substantially increase their targets for 2030, but strive for negative net emissions, if the 1.5°C is to be met. They must take responsibility to contribute on an equitable basis as outlined in the CBDR principle referred to above.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) issued a provisional report prior to COP26, warning that due to record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated accumulated heat the planet is now in unchartered territory.

“Extreme [weather] events are the new norm,” said professor Taalas, Secretary-General of the WMO. “At the current rate of increase in greenhouse gas concentrations, we will see a temperature increase by the end of this century far in excess of the Paris agreement targets of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.”

“COP 26 is a make-or-break opportunity to put us back on track,” Taalas warned.

The global mean temperature rise since the pre-industrial period is already at 1.1° C and in Australia it is already an alarming 1.4°C. According to the IPCC, limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5°C will not achievable if global emissions are not reduced by fifty per cent by 2030.

To remain within the “1.5°” carbon budget, the targets would need to be 74 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2035.


Capitalism is driving climate change with its short-sighted pursuit of profits and in the process driving humanity and the planet to the brink.

Māori climate activist India Logan-Riley gave a rousing speech at the opening of the Climate Summit with a stark warning for world leaders that it is imperative that they listen to young indigenous peoples and support their fight for a better future.

“We’re keeping fossil fuels in the ground and stopping fossil fuel expansion. We’re halting infrastructure that would increase emissions and saying no to false solutions,” Logan-Riley said. “What we do works,” Logan-Riley added.

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C requires the sharing of the remaining carbon budget in an equitable manner. This will not happen by itself as evidenced by the shortfall in developed country commitments. It cannot be left to markets. Promises will not be sufficient. Concrete action is required.

Governments of developed capitalist states must be forced to honour and increase their commitments, shoulder the financial burden for their the consequences of their actions. This can only be achieved through action on the ground, outside the formal summit.

The many protest actions around the UK during the summit and global day of action on 6th November are a start.

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