ONE might imagine a conspiracist out there spinning a story about how the fossil fuel industry is manipulating events to see COP26 fail. Some might take it seriously – after all, the industry spent huge sums of money financing a long-term and sophisticated attack on climate science. And it continues to spend big on lobbying – why else would governments dish out more than $6 trillion in subsidies to the fossil fuel sector each year?

For its part, the evidence suggests that Boris Johnson’s Tory Party is not averse to secretive foreign funding. And Johnson is, himself, a previous climate sceptic. So, why not get the people who got Brexit done to preside over a critical summit to stall the global climate talks?

One could almost imagine the governments of a handful of major fossil fuel producing economies, some with very few scruples, getting behind such an effort.

Conspiracy theories aside, it is patently the case that the UK Government has been taking a lot of decisions that make a globally good outcome in Glasgow less likely – or at least a great deal more difficult. The transition from cheap fossil fuels will be complex and cause profound disruption and dislocation, and huge range of interests are involved; any summit president would have to work very hard to produce a consensus across 196 countries.

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So why make it harder? Why would the leader of such momentous talks make an irreverent reference to a Muppet character in a speech at the UN General Assembly on the importance of the talks?

One of the political challenges facing the talks is that many of the countries least responsible for and most vulnerable to global heating are least able to afford to do much about it. Hence the importance placed on climate finance agreed at the Copenhagen COP of $100 billion in support to developing countries annually by 2020. Disappointingly, the financing target has not been met. Developing countries, many struggling with a debt crisis exacerbated by Covid-19, are looking for a new deal which will come with a bigger price tag beyond 2025.

Will low and middle-income countries (LMICs) make big commitments in this context? Soft power and mutual aid are an absolute prerequisite for progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals and the achievement of net zero targets. This requires careful diplomatic work and LMICs are certainly less likely to give ground after the egregious, rapid, unplanned, unconscionable and “unlawful” cuts to the UK aid budget. Giving ground is even less likely if the UK Government’s proposal to count vaccine donations and new IMF special drawing rights as “contributions to aid” in the next Budget are agreed. Next it will be the “arms trade” being put in the “aid” budget line, to a chorus of dead cats distracting attention, and private contractors being the “winners who take all” while running detention centres planned for refouled refugees overseas.

What message does this send about global solidarity, let alone Global Britain? Or about true intentions on the global compacts on migration or climate refugees?

Moreover, as the host, the UK Government might have been expected to lead by example so as to occupy the diplomatic high ground, demonstrating its own stated aims post-Brexit, by showing what diplomacy might mean for its vision of a global order when it comes to climate action.

All are agreed that the UK has been good on making commitments, but less good on policy and even worse on delivery – as elaborated in the report of the UK’s independent Climate Change Committee. And indeed some of decisions appear to make a mockery of the presidency. The Cambo oil field drilling permit is about to be signed off against a backdrop of ODA cuts that have reduced funding for a range of climate mitigation projects globally. The Centre for Global Development estimates that as a result of the cuts, 3.6 million people will not have access to clean water. And then, the farce of privileging a trade deal with far-flung Australia instead of closer neighbours.

Adapting to climate change will require fundamental changes to the economy and society. Everyone will be impacted. And while we are hoping to ensure the next generation will inherit an earth worth having, more immediately there will be winners and losers. In this context, it will be important to ensure that the voices of those most affected and those without power have a say in the climate transition. In this context, the new Policing Bill – which affects England and Wales in particular – erodes the rights of protest which are a core part of a functioning democracy. Critics of the bill have called it “draconian” and a serious erosion of rights.

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It is ill-drafted and includes the now notorious notion that “causing serious annoyance” may be criminalised. This includes the kinds of actions which have been part of the protests staged by many an environmental organisation and those campaigning for migrant rights, LGBTQ or women’s rights.

And the Home Officer Minister wants to go further with additional powers under the Orwellian-esque “criminal disruption prevention orders” – which critics say will prevent people from exercising their democratic rights.

If “serious annoyance” is to be a criminal offence, then the mismanagement and lack of commitment to the goals of carbon reduction and the carefully planned wholesale change required to divest from fossil fuels mean the UK Government itself is a culprit of “serious annoyance”.

The UK Government has recently been increasing its use of almost-empty charter planes for deportations to LMICs, including Zimbabwe. Fourteen people were deported on August 5, 2021. The cruel spectacle is the point of these deportations – under the guise of deterrent, but actually playing strongly with a Conservative base baying for migrant blood. The carbon cost of deportations is vastly wasteful. Climate change and environmental catastrophes creates conflict over resources and breakdowns of various kinds, displacing people both internally and across borders. But where to go when no-one will have you?

THERE are increasingly violent measures being used on the borders of Europe, Australia, and by the Home Secretary in the English Channel – including the New Plan for Immigration, of which UNHCR UK has said “A Global Britain needs an asylum policy matching its international obligations”.

What we have with the Borders Bill violates key aspects of the Refugee Convention, and does not speak at all of a Global Britain, but of insularity; of severing links with countries with whom the international development community have worked in tandem for years. The overnight cuts to the best of the international development research projects the UK has funded, under the Conservative government, as Beacon Projects, is another example of the chaotic state of affairs which coalesce into an even more disastrous prelude to COP26 than that of the G7 earlier this summer.

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A successful COP is essential and is a re-commitment to real, lasting overseas assistance, development, and humanitarian aid and especially for the coming transition. COP26 in Glasgow is seen by many as a one-off, last-chance opportunity.

The publication of the 2021 Spending Review, which falls on the eve of the COP summit, is a good place for the host country to start. Commitments to financing green policies, reversing the aid cuts, replenishing international development research after the punishing, death-dealing cuts, and making good on LMIC climate financing package will help deliver an agreement. These are the prerequisites of a successful COP.

Kent Buse is director of the Healthier Societies Program, The George Institute for Global Health, Imperial College London

Alison Phipps is UNESCO chair for Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts and Professor of Languages and Intercultural Studies at the University of Glasgow