Climate justice or climate hypocrisy?

Criticisms pile up at the annual climate summit in Glasgow.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson welcoming Joe Biden to the COP26 summit.

What do the leaders of the world do to combat climate change? They toss coins in a fountain for good luck. As strange as it sounds, that’s what the current ruling elite did before arriving at COP26 in Glasgow.

Six years after the Paris Agreement, leaders gathered again on Oct. 31 for the 26th Annual Conference of Parties (COP26). The event, also known as the coveted climate summit, invited world leaders around the world to talk about climate change issues for 12 days and ways to solve them.

Day one of the summit hosted leaders including President Joe Biden, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and British Monarch Queen Elizabeth, among others. They discussed their commitment to the provisions in the Paris Agreement—cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, the prevention of further global warming and trying to achieve net-zero emissions. And yet, as leaders made promises to tackle climate change, activists and experts couldn’t help noticing the hypocrisy that came with it.

For starters, a total of 400 private jets flew down to Glasgow from all over the world, carrying more than 100 leaders. This emitted 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For comparison, the average person’s carbon footprint globally is 7 tonnes per year and the carbon footprint of an average American is 21 tonnes per year. The leaders have been called out by critics as “eco-hypocrites” for emitting a huge amount of CO2 while gathering for an event organized to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Critics also pointed out how COP26 and the G20 events could have been combined since many leaders flew down directly from Rome where the G20 summit was happening. Side streets outside the venue were lined up with cars, many idly waiting with their engines burning. President Biden arrived with a large procession of motorcycles and cars.

The leaders of countries like the U.S., the U.K, India, Germany and others spoke repeatedly about innovations to offset the disastrous effects of climate change, but little about how to implement them. These are the countries that contribute the most to greenhouse emissions. On the other hand, leaders from large countries such as Brazil, China and Russia were entirely absent from the summit on the first day.

Activists were quick to call out the hypocrisy of Alok Sharma, the president of COP26 at the COY16 Youth Conference. Youth delegates interrupted Sharma’s statement and criticized his support for opening the new Cambo oil field and subsidizing fossil fuels.

USC associate professor and expert on climate science Julien Emile-Geay emphasized the issue of fossil fuels.

“It is difficult to estimate, but fossil fuels are heavily subsidized by many countries,” Emile-Geay said. “That has created distortions and they appear less pricey than they are. It is important to reframe it around the freebies that fossil fuel industries have been enjoying for decades. When you look at the true cost of carbon, renewable energy is more cost-effective than fossil fuels.”

The summit has also faced backlash for not having enough young leaders present. Climate activist Greta Thunberg was not officially invited to the summit, despite being part of various past UN events.

“I think that many people might be scared that if they invite too many radical young people, then that might make them look bad,” Thunberg said in an interview with the BBC.

Leaders like Johnson and Modi drew flak over their failure to deliver on their promises. Johnson faced heavy criticism when he talked about “taking concrete steps that will actually help countries around the world that need it the most.” Despite mentioning the ticking clock global warming has placed on the Earth, he is still taking steps in the opposite direction and licensing oil and gas policies, as many critics pointed out. Modi talked about achieving net zero emissions by 2070 while increasing coal production to one billion tonnes.

“There have been global conversations around climate change for decades now,” said Jill Johnston, an expert in climate justice and assistant professor at USC.

Johnston recalls her experience at COP6 from 20 years ago. “I was present in COP6 and it seemed that these problems existed even then. We are in this crisis and it’s 20 years later now and many of the things haven’t happened at the international level. At the global and federal levels, we see climate policies stalled. There have been more local, county or state-level initiatives to address these issues largely in response to the lack of action at the international and the federal levels.”

The summit is expected to last until Nov. 12.