In an age of self-interest, Boris Johnson's secret COP26 weapon may have to be shame


Boris Johnson will welcome the world to Glasgow, Scotland, in less than two weeks, where he will host the COP26 international climate conference at a critical juncture in our planet's history.

Over the next two weeks, the British Prime Minister intends to persuade some of the world's most prominent leaders to speed up reductions in greenhouse gas emissions this decade.
It's impossible to overestimate the significance of this conference for Johnson's international image. Since the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, he has argued that Brexit is an opportunity for his country to become a more active member of the global community, leading the way in trade reform.

To be considered a success, Johnson and Alok Sharma, his COP26 President, will need delegates to commit to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, rather than the 2 degrees Celsius indicated in the 2015 Paris Agreement. He'll also seek dozens more pledges for net zero emissions, in which countries release no more greenhouse gases than they remove from the environment, which would require halving world emissions by 2030. Commitments from countries that rely on fossil fuels to build their economies, such as Saudi Arabia, and China, which is using coal to power its historic resurgence, will be particularly important.

Given the gravity of the climate catastrophe, one would think that reaching an agreement on these topics would be straightforward. Unfortunately, politics and science have a tangled relationship, and multilateralism in 2021 is based as much on political self-interest as it is on incontrovertible facts.
"When it comes to climate policy, politics and physics are having a fight, and physics is going to win," says Tom Burke, the chair of E3G, an independent climate think tank.

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