COP26 is truly a world upended. The Paris climate agreement we signed in 2015 was supposed to save us from the most dire consequences of climate change – but it’s not working. Data shows that every year we go on as we are, we’re producing carbon that will deepen the “hiatus” in Earth’s overall temperature rise, and locking us into dangerous global warming.
As secretary of state, I was responsible for international climate policy. I saw every day in the run-up to COP21 how it could become a testing ground for implementing ambitious solutions for reducing emissions. And then the reality of the intransigence of climate deniers hit hard. Our dramatic U-turn. I was pushed, as many of my colleagues were, to consider doing nothing for a time, because that was truly the only alternative to accepting the reality of climate change.
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What’s the alternative? Well, many are drawing the conclusion that action is no longer possible and that we have only one path: the implementation of technology, fundamentally transforming our fossil fuel economies, including our transport systems, which remain largely fossil fuel dependent. New trends, such as electric vehicles, announced during COP26, are part of the answer. But they are at this very point only in the beginning of their real-world industrialization. The country has acknowledged that it’s time to act.
And that’s where we come to the COP26 world of fashion. The latest fashion design gets defined by what goes into it, how it’s designed, how it’s made, and who is in charge of this industry.
The specific attention on the work of a single climate engineering technique is interesting. An international treaty is being constructed, but it requires someone to answer this question: If we don’t keep temperatures from rising, what? Will we need to start engineering the climate or will those changes come through technology and innovation? After all, it’s possible that extreme weather events will become commonplace due to climate change – what will we do to cope?
And yet we have noticed that heavy-handed intervention is felt particularly by countries in the Middle East. We’ve seen everything from starving civilians, to painful mass drownings and conflict over water. We have even seen countries use chlorine to scrub coal plants of carbon dioxide emissions. We are to continue entering more and more information at the feet of the authorities.
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But our model of accounting by region and by country is not necessarily scalable, nor transparent, nor socially responsible. The promise of technological and industrial innovation needs to be the central debate. The weakness of our current system – which is all about the accumulation of wealth, even if not in the highest places – is that no one’s employment is threatened if they’re paid nothing for their excessive energy consumption. The dilemma remains: if we have to pour a “new” money into the transition, to arrest climate change – the new money we are talking about is not high-margin; it is no more efficient than our current system of fossil fuels and energy.
But now is the time to imagine how we will adapt to the challenges of climate change – how we may still know how to live according to the ideals of renewable energy, agriculture and zero waste. We cannot escape from this crisis by following a mantra of “nothing works” – as though we’re planning for winners and losers, when all of our futures are inextricably bound to our ability to adapt and respond to the demands of climate change.
When we tell ourselves the future will be either a carbon-free, nuclear-free, carbon-dioxide-free, carbon-neutral, modern life, or our elimination – we know we’re missing the point. Such a quest would destroy our ability to create valuable lives for all of our people.
Facing up to this grand dilemma requires political ingenuity, and courage. It will require political care. And it will require bold personalities who step up and lead the way in this great and undemocratic struggle against the polluter – and, at the same time, the communities and governments most threatened by our fossil fuel economy.