The Historic Failure of COP26

Introduction to our article Global Warming: IPCC Report AR6 - Writing a Death Warrant?, from Revolutionary Perspectives #19.

We are republishing a text written before the start of the climate conference in Glasgow (COP26) which took a detailed look at the seriousness of the climate crisis and predicted the conference would achieve almost nothing. Events have confirmed this prediction. However, the failure of COP26 indicates a deeper failure; the failure of the entire regime of the UN framework conference for Climate Change (UNFCCC) to deal with the climate crisis. It is clear our rulers are not going to respond either to the advice of their scientists or the massive protest movements which besieged the Glasgow conference. As the text we republish makes clear this is because they are driven by the demands of the capitalist system, demands for continual profit and continual capital accumulation which in turn is inextricably linked to continual growth. These are systemic demands. They are not political options our rulers can choose to ignore and therefore they will pursue them even if this means the destruction of the planet.

The irony of this situation is that sections of the bourgeoisie are aware of what needs to be done but as a global class they just cannot do it. The pathos of this predicament was illustrated by the UK president of the conference, Alok Sharma, who was choking back his tears as he read out what he clearly recognised was a completely inadequate final agreement.

Of course, those in power will not acknowledge the conference was a failure; instead they claim it has kept alive the prospect of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius this century. Those holding the levers of power are doing very well out of the present system. It is calculated, for example, that the richest 1% of the global population are responsible for 15% of global GHG emissions, while the poorest 50% are responsible for only 6%(1), and hence have little incentive to change things. Instead they pretend, contrary to the science, that the slow minimal steps taken represent great strides towards a solution. They point to agreements such as those of halting deforestation, limiting methane emissions, new greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction pledges, and the zero carbon pledges. As a last resort they claim that another conference in 2022 will correct the glaring shortfalls. All of these so-called achievements have been comprehensively rubbished by various scientific bodies. When one remembers that the conference was supposed to reaffirm the route to a global warming of only 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 the analysis of future temperatures by the “Climate Action Tracker” (CAT) is the most damning.(2) The increases they calculate are as follows:

  • 2.7 degrees Celsius. This will be the result of current policies. This is actually what the IPCC report AR6 predicts under its Shared Socioeconomic Pathway SSP2-4.5.
  • 2.4 degrees Celsius. This assumes all the current GHG reduction pledges including those put forward at COP26 are met in full.
  • 2.1 degrees Celsius. This assumes the pledges for 2030 and the further long term pledges are met.
  • 1.8 degrees Celsius. This assumes all announced targets and net zero GHG emissions pledges are met.

None of these predictions meet the 1.5 degree Celsius target yet the conference communique claims it has been kept “alive.” The IPCC calculates GHG emissions must be halved from their present level by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degree target. All the present pledges will still result in double the required emissions by 2030.(3) The CAT points out that their analysis of the short and long term pledges show that they are random without any follow up plan and only 6% of countries have credible net zero targets. Similar demolition of the pledges on deforestation(4) and methane(5) emissions have been made(6), but perhaps the most egregious failure is that of the use of coal, the most polluting of the fossil fuels. To meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target the IPCC calculates coal must be phased out in the OECD countries by 2030 and globally by 2040. A host of countries refused to commit to this. India, for example, committed to phase out coal by 2070, 30 years too late. India, together with China, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and others, insisted the final communique was changed from an ambition to “phase out” coal to “phase down” coal. In other words making the pledge meaningless and coal can be burned without limit.

Put simply we are heading for a catastrophic temperature increase of between 2.4 and 2.7 degrees Celsius.

The capitalist system is in decline and has reached the stage where its own internal workings are causing it to suffer the equivalent of seizures. The 2007/8 financial crisis and the Covid-19 pandemic are just the most recent. The climate crisis, however, might well prove terminal. Those sections of our ruling class who recognise the futility of the UN framework are casting about for other solutions. The Nobel Prize winning economist William Nordhaus, for example, is advocating a regime of Carbon Pricing with a high price set for carbon. This, he proposes, is to be agreed outside the UN framework by a “Carbon Club” of the most developed countries(7) who will then impose carbon tariffs on all imports according to their carbon content. However, this is likely to reduce profits considerably and has been opposed on this basis by other bourgeois economists. The capitalist class will not do things which are not profitable. The systemic demands of capitalism override everything else.

It is clear the bourgeoisie cannot solve this crisis but as the effects of the crisis start to impoverish and strangle more and more of the world’s working class we can expect more class struggle and struggle directed towards the overthrow of the system causing this crisis.

As the text we reproduce argues, what is required to solve the climate crisis is a change of historical proportions, otherwise as the system goes down it will take us all down with it. What is required is the overthrow of the present system and the replacement of capitalist relations of production by genuine communist ones leading to production for human needs. Only this will give us the means we need to save the planet. The watchword “Save the Planet – Destroy Capitalism” has never been more relevant.

Communist Workers’ Organisation


Photo from: UKinUSA,

(1) See Financial Times 21/5/21

(2) See

(3) Current GHG emissions are approximately 50Giga tonnes (Gt) of CO2 equivalent. The most optimistic estimate for 2030 based on COP26 pledges is 44Gt.

(4) It was announced AFTER the conclusion of COP26 that deforestation of the Amazon was at a 15 year high in the year ending July 21. 13200 square kilometres of forest was raised. Brazil was one of the countries to actually reduce its GHG emissions target given at the Paris agreement of 2015. See Financial Times 19/11/21.

(5) 109 countries committed to reduce methane emissions by 30% but it transpires that large parts of this reduction are already included in existing pledges.

(6) See CAT report cited above.

(7) See William Nordhaus

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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