For all the rhetoric about progress at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, the demand for action was clearly not met. The conference turned into a series of pledges. Meanwhile, the facts of climate change illustrate that immediate steps need to be taken in order to avoid a catastrophic rise in ocean levels and disruption to weather patterns.

Government and industry officials in Glasgow set out to “get things done” in an effort to limit the temperature rise on the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but were clearly not on the same page. Business played an outsized role inside the official “blue zone” for executives, as well as across Scotland at privately sponsored forums, roundtables and parties.

Private sector-driven action on climate took on a life of its own, with momentum irrespective of the technical outcomes that, according to those present, failed to reflect clear plans of action. Thus, there were dual events. The Glasgow promises are on a goal track for 2040, 2050 and 2060. New pledges and commitments were also made on domestic and international coal. COP26 agreed on guidelines for implementing the market-based cooperative approaches referred to in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. But those targets and actions are insufficient. COP27 and COP28 will have to inject some speed into the process.

There is no doubt that governments around the world are 50 years behind the curve in terms of even minor steps to limit climate change. Five decades have passed since the first climate projections set a distant target at 2100. Science shows that greenhouse gas emissions will linger for centuries. This long-term aftermath and its impact on how humans live will require an adjustment to a new type of climate, one that raises challenges for all sectors.

Despite increased finance pledges before COP26, many key countries fell short of the decades-old commitment to provide $100 billion in climate finance annually. Climate finance is key. Another factor is the petty politics that gets in the way of progress toward addressing what is truly a clear and present danger.

To be sure, climate goals cannot be achieved overnight. Carbon reduction and the shift to electric transport, while moving away from traditional energy sources, are expensive endeavors.

The pandemic is making matters worse. Lockdowns in 2020 showed how quickly the urban, industrialized environment could heal, with a drop in air pollution and then the return of wildlife to some cities. This is a model for all stakeholders to explore in terms of thinking about how to recreate such conditions in a normal environment. Why? Because it is a healthy start. This explains much of the thinking behind India’s recent closure of schools in New Delhi. Before the pandemic, staggered commutes and other government measures to limit energy use were noble, but clearly not enough to “clean up the here and now.”

Now for the hard part after COP26 — turning government and private-sector commitments into concrete actions that are measurable, transparent and verifiable.

A key pressure area for policymakers and practitioners is climate finance to help developing countries lower greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. This is a huge issue for developing countries and it is not clear if developed countries will make up for a historic shortfall, even if the $100 billion per year is achieved.

Given that climate change is here to stay, countries around the world need to take mitigation measures now, not only for coastal cities but also growing mega-cities. Meanwhile, climate finance must be pushed as a major subject for discussion at future climate summits.

  • Dr. Theodore Karasik is a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @tkarasik
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