Behind the scenes at COP 26

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By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI*

At the Glasgow Conference, a tense and leaderless world

"We are witnessing one of the largest shifts in the global geostrategic power of the world has witnessed” (Gal. Mark Milley, Joint Chief of Staff, in NBC News, Sputnik).

There is no denying the disenchantment provoked by the World Climate Conference (COP 26), held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, at the beginning of this month of November. On the one hand, there are those who praise the commitment to zero deforestation, reduce methane gas emissions, regulate the world carbon market, and even the mention in the final meeting document of the need to reduce the use of coal and fuels. fossil fuels, with a view to the consensual objective of limiting the increase in global temperature to 1,5°C by the end of the century, compared to its level prior to the “industrial age”. On the other hand, there are those who criticize the lack of progress in relation to the theme of “climate justice”, that is, the financial compensation of the poorest countries that already suffer the effects of global warming produced by the development of the richest countries, or that are unable to give up their products that contribute to global warming, but which are necessary – at this moment – ​​for their own economic development.

Furthermore, no clear goals were defined, nor were mechanisms established or created for control and global governance of the climate issue. All of this is true, everyone is right to some degree, and there is no way to arbitrate this debate conclusively. But the real reason for disenchantment, or even the feeling of failure at COP 26, has nothing to do with its technical and political agreements and commitments; has to do with the lack of “political density” of a conference that was emptied and did not have any leadership capable of overcoming the existing fragmentation and hostility in the international system – marked by a simultaneous and parallel movement of all the powers that could or they should lead this great project of “energy transition” and “green revolution” of the world economy.

In fact, the COP 26 was organized by England with the explicit aim of asserting British, or even Anglo-Saxon, leadership in this great process of ecological transformation, and with the unstated aim of “transferring” to Glasgow the symbolic world mark of the “Paris Accords”. This was the dream of the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, and Alok Sharma, his countryman who chaired the conference. But this project was aborted right from the start by the announcement, at the last minute, of the absence of the presidents of China and Russia, and by the discreet boycott of France and the European Union itself.

The American president himself, John Biden, was keen to distance himself from the figure of the English prime minister, exposing his fragility, either because of his internal problems, or his current disputes with France regarding Ireland and the Union. European Union, or simply because England no longer has the power and world leadership imagined by Johnson, not even among the great powers, unless it is supported by the United States. What was difficult in this case because the United States was, ultimately, the main responsible for the emptying of the Glasgow meeting, despite the good ecological intentions of its current president.

World leaders gathered in Glasgow still did not have time to forget Donald Trump and his decision to abandon the Paris Accords, which the United States itself had sponsored and enthusiastically supported in 2015. And despite the American return and the president's apology John Biden, the trauma of the rupture remained a permanent threat to the future of American participation, especially when taking into account the possibility of the return of Donald Trump or some other far-right and denialist leader in the 2024 elections. conditions, who would bet on the leadership of a country and a president that is not able to secure the current position of the United States, favorable to the climate agreement, for just three more years?

Furthermore, the Biden government itself has suffered a great loss of domestic support after its disastrous military withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was done, incidentally, without consultation or communication with its main European allies. All this in an increasingly polarized and radicalized society, which has shown, in public opinion polls, its growing rejection of the very idea of ​​re-election of the current president, which perhaps explains its increasingly tense and exclusive relations with its vice-president. President Kamala Harris.

It is in this context that one must assess the decisive importance of the other great “Western defection”, of the European Union itself, which played a much smaller role than expected in the conduct of the Glasgow negotiations, whether due to its current disputes with the Prime Minister “brexist” Boris Johnson, was because she herself is internally divided and fragile. Germany is still negotiating the formation of a new government, without Angela Merkel and, therefore, with a low capacity for initiative and leadership; the same can be said of Emmanuel Macron's France, on the eve of a new presidential election, and in open conflict with England over issues arising from Brexit.

Add to this the traditional economic fracture between the countries of the north and south of the European Union, aggravated by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, to which must be added the ideological fracture between its member countries in eastern and western Europe. All mobilized, but without a common position in the face of what NATO now considers a Russian military threat in the Baltic, Central Europe and the Black Sea, and the threat of a resurgence of ethnic and religious conflict in the Balkans. It is better understood in this way the muted passage of Europeans through Glasgow and their current inability to lead anything on a global scale.

In early 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping broke with a long contrary tradition and attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, in the Swiss Alps, to make an uncompromising defense of globalization and the liberal world economic order, shortly after the Brexit, victorious in the 2016 English plebiscite, and in the first hour of Donald Trump's government. In his speech, President Xi Jinping explicitly offered himself to lead the project and the liberal world that had been tutored by the Anglo-Saxons and that was now being criticized and, in a certain way, abandoned by the United States of Donald Trump, and by its faithful allies British people.

Four years later, Xi Jinping did not attend the Glasgow meeting, despite the fact that his government has been promoting increasingly bold policies in the field of “energy transition” and the creation of a new Chinese “green economy”. Between one date and another, however, China was surprised by the “trade war” started by Donald Trump, and which continues until now with the government of John Biden, which has promoted an increasingly intense and aggressive military siege against China, especially after the implementation of its agreements with Korea, Japan, India and Australia, and its decision to carry out a joint atomic agreement with England and Australia.

China has been responding to the trade war and its military siege by accelerating its military-technological development, and has been progressively decoupling its economy from that of the United States, especially in fields involving sensitive technologies. And it is in this context that the current aggravation of the dispute over Taiwan and naval control of the South China Sea is placed. This tension and growing hostility explain, ultimately, the absence of the Chinese president at COP 26, whose importance was neither reduced nor disguised by the joint declaration, made in Glasgow, by the representatives of China and the US, absolutely formal, diplomatic and without major practical consequences.

It is interesting to observe that, in order to defend themselves, the Chinese are being forced to follow an “introspective” and closing guideline very similar to the one advocated by Trump, and which continues to be followed by John Biden. Even so, China must follow, at its own expense, its energy and economic transition policy, with a programmed expenditure, for the next decade, of 3,4 trillion dollars destined to the reduction of its carbon gas emissions, more than than the sum of what the United States and the European Union have already planned to spend together in the same period.

The Russian absence in Glasgow had a script similar to that of China, although in this case the external siege is already much older and permanent, since NATO, which was created to face the “communist threat” of the USSR, became maintained after the end of the Cold War, now to face the conservative threat of Vladimir Putin's nationalist Russia. Russia is currently facing internal, health and economic problems, caused or aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, and is still facing growing hostility on its western border, and would not have the slightest condition to land in the official photo of Glasgow next to their main accusers and potential aggressors. In any case, Russia has never exercised significant world leadership with regard to the themes of the “ecological agenda”, being a well-known energy megapower, thanks to its unlimited reserves of coal, gas and oil, as well as nuclear energy. Despite this, it continues to maintain its favorable position, its objectives and its own strategy of decarbonizing its economy and its territory.

Finally, one cannot fail to highlight the importance of changing Brazil's traditional position and its disappearance from the international diplomatic scene. Since the Rio-92 Conference, at least, Brazil has played a central role in the fight against global climate change, not only because of the importance of its forests, its oil and its livestock, but above all because Itamaraty has always occupied a prominent position in the great negotiations and agreements reached in the last 25 years. For this reason, the new denialist position of the Brazilian government weighed heavily on the final dismay in Glasgow, despite the fact that some Brazilian diplomats tried to show a more positive posture, entirely discredited by their own withholding of information during the meeting, and by the repeated lies of the his government and that of his president regarding the record deforestation of the Amazon, in the last three years of his government.

It is quite true that at the last G20 meeting, in Rome, it was possible to perceive that the international community had already classified and definitively discarded the captain-president, as a kind of “imputable vault”, as was evident in his small “episode” with Angela Merkel, and in her entirely nonsensical conversation with Recep Erdogan, the president of Turkey. The impression that remains is that the international community has already accepted the idea of ​​waiting for this figure to be returned to his private circus, and for its inventors to return to their barracks, so that Brazil can also return to occupy the place it had already conquered in the world. international scenario, in particular in his fight against deforestation in the Amazon and in favor of the Paris Agreements, which were signed by Brazil. But the platform in Glasgow has already been made, and there is no doubt that the disappearance of Brazil also contributed to the depletion of political will at COP 26.

Summarizing our argument: the world is entirely fragmented, tense and without leadership, and it is not possible to constitute and consolidate a collective political will as complex as the one required to carry out an energy and economic transition of this magnitude, without the existence of a strong and convergent leadership capable of moving such an unequal and asymmetrical world, in the same collective direction. Right now, what exists is not multilateralism, it's shattering, and in this context, the fabric of the international system tends to become hypersensitive, transforming any conflict into a threat of war. It is because of this tension and this hostility that is in the air that the Glasgow Conference will go down in history as a paradoxical moment, of great consensus and, at the same time, of great frustration.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

 

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