Much of the lead-up to New Zealand's participation in the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Glasgow next month has, it seems, been arguing against hope.
Whether Climate Change Minister James Shaw should attend in person with a delegation of 14 appears somewhat moot when we reflect on what we are up against.
The COP26 summit aims "to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change". It will have its work cut out after the disappointments from the Paris Agreement and the UN framework convention.
The Paris Agreement outlined a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees above preindustrial levels, while pursuing the means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. However, the United Nations Environment Programme reported late last year that despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century – far beyond the Paris Agreement goals.
Another shortcoming of the Paris Agreement is the "free-rider problem", where countries could enjoy the benefits of global efforts, regardless of their contributions. This was exacerbated when President Donald Trump pulled the US out, a decision since reversed by his successor Joe Biden.
The shortcomings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are also well documented, particularly where negotiations are governed by consensus, so small groups of countries can block progress. Thus far it has still failed in its most important move — ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to commit industrialised countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases emissions to agreed targets — in large part because the treaty doesn't cover developing countries which now include the largest emitters.
At Glasgow, countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century; to share ideas on how to protect communities and natural habitats; and belatedly deliver on the Paris Agreement to mobilise at least $142bn in climate finance per year by 2020, an amount that has so far reached $112bn.
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COP26 also hopes to finalise the Paris Rulebook - the details that make the Paris Agreement operational and "accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society".
Given the outcomes so far, the conference could be said to have lofty ambitions indeed.
Nelson Mandela once said choices should be made based on hope rather than fear. The consequences of climate change have been well documented and the evidence shows many reasons to be fearful.
Warmer temperatures on land and at sea change global weather patterns, and how and where precipitation falls. Those shifting patterns give rise to more dangerous droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and storms. Ice caps, glaciers, and layers of permafrost melt, which can lead to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.
What we need most of all from Glasgow is hope.