In November 2021, world leaders will gather in Glasgow to try once again to crack climate change. It is a formidable task: none of the previous agreements, including Paris in 2016, has made any difference to the march upwards of the carbon concentration in the atmosphere - 2 parts per million every year since 1990. After the 30 wasted years I describe in my book, Net Zero, why would anyone expect a breakthrough?
At the heart of the COP26 negotiations lies the geopolitics between the US and China. Add in the EU and most emissions are captured. There is lots of excitement about Biden replacing Trump, and Xi Jingping’s commitment to becoming “carbon neutral” by 2060. Yet the fundamentals of the US–Chinese relationship have not changed: it is about trade and military power. It is about Taiwan, the Uighurs, and the South China Sea.
COP26 offers another opportunity to focus world leaders’ attention on climate change, but the real action needs to be bottom-up and depends on the unilateral measures nations take. Where the global and the national join up is about trade: about carbon trade and carbon imports. If climate and trade do get joined up at Glasgow, that would really make a difference.