Future deserts (Climate Change) -DAWN

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‘THE fate of a premature seer and that of a timely fool is the same.’ This adage applies perfectly to the foolhardy congregating in Glasgow to hear the warnings of climate Cassandras. They do so at the UN’s Climate Change Conference (COP26), lasting from Oct 31 until Nov 12.

Any international gathering bearing the prefix UN is doomed to sink under the weight of its own verbiage. Take COP26’s preamble: “It is a crucial opportunity to achieve pivotal, transformational change in global climate policy and action. It is a credibility test for global efforts to address climate change and it is where Parties must make considerable progress to reach consensus on issues they have been discussing for several years.”

Everyone who’s anyone, or wants to be someone, is on the list of heads of state or governments to speak in person or issue national statements. These include US President Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president of Mongolia, Prince Charles (who has been talking to his plants for years), and even Prince Albert II of mini Monaco.

Notable absentees are Russian President Putin (the 21st-century energy czar), Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro responsible for the rapidly balding Amazon forests (‘the lungs of our planet’), leaders from Japan and Iran, and the prime minister of Pakistan.

People will ask why the PM could attend the SGI but not COP26.

The UN has ignored former US vice president Al Gore. He lost the presidential 2000 election (‘I am Al Gore. I used to be the next President of the United States’), then won half the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his climate change activism. His film An Inconvenient Truth (2006) achieved in 97 minutes what took his fellow environmentalist David Attenborough 60 years of advocacy through his television documentaries.

David Attenborough is now 95 years old. He told the world leaders at Glasgow: “We are, after all, the greatest problem solvers to have ever existed on Earth. If working apart, we are a force powerful enough to destabilise our planet, surely working together, we are powerful enough to save it.”

The leaders had heard it all before because he had said it all before. Rewind to Attenborough at COP24 in 2018: “Right now, we are facing a manmade disaster of global scale […] the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” He exhorted the decision-makers then and again now to act like leaders.

British PM Boris Johnson, as host, provided some jarring doomsday arithmetic about global warming: “Two degrees more, and we jeopardise the food supply for hundreds of millions of people, crops wither, locusts swarm,” he said. “Three degrees, and you can add more wildfires and cyclones, twice as many. Five times as many droughts, and 36 times as many heat waves. Four degrees and we say goodbye to whole cities — Miami, Alexandria, Shanghai, all lost beneath the waves.”

For the next 10 days, the COP26 conference hall will reek of gaseous platitudes masquerading as winds of change. Television teams will trip over each other to interview Greta Thunberg, a juvenile Joan of Arc battling against blasé country heads. At 18, she still hurls insolent admonitions at them: “Green economy, blah, blah, blah. Net zero by 2050, blah, blah, blah. Climate-neutral, blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders.”

No one at Glasgow will dare mention the pressure applied furtively by Australia, India and Saudi Arabia on scientists compiling a UN report for COP26, on how to tackle climate change, especially from the unbridled use of coal.

Documents leaked to the BBC reveal that Australia (a major coal exporter) rejected their conclusion that “closing coal-fired power plants was necessary”. India reiterated brazenly that coal would remain the mainstay of India’s energy production “for decades”. (India is already the world’s second biggest consumer of coal.) The Saudis demanded that phrases like “the need for urgent and accelerated mitigation actions at all scales” should be eliminated from the report. They want the UN to let sleeping hydrocarbons lie.

The naive might not be able to reconcile these impious actions by the Saudis with their Saudi Green Initiative, held in Riyadh on Oct 23. The SGI’s clever acronym OASIS (Oceans, Atmosphere, Space, Interface, Species) pointedly excluded underground fossil fuels.

Innocents will wonder why PM Imran Khan could attend the SGI in Riyadh but would not want to join world leaders in Glasgow. Was it because no one there had $3 billion to spare?

Instead, Pakistan is being represented at COP26 by Malik Amin Aslam, the prime minister’s special assistant on climate change. Mr Amin — a fellow Aitchisonian and Oxonian — also shares Mr Khan’s passion for environmental solutions.

Why Riyadh rather than Glasgow? Because deserts provide a starker warning to mankind?