Yes, leadership matters – Climate Weekly

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Joe Biden speaks to DRC president Felix Tshisekedi and Gabon's president Ali Bongo Ondimba at Cop26 (Photo: The White House/Flickr)


How important is it for leaders to show up to UN climate summits?

Some argue if they don’t have anything useful to bring, they might as well save the carbon emissions of a flight. Prior to Paris, it wasn’t routinely expected. Sharm el-Sheikh is not a “decision Cop”.

All too often when heads of state attend, they give televised speeches aimed at their domestic audiences, talk past each other, then leave. Hastily assembled coalitions announce pledges that disintegrate on contact with reality. Attendance is certainly not a sufficient condition for progress.

The top dogs in China, India, Canada, Japan and Australia, among other major emitters, have seemingly decided it’s not worth their time this year. Even Rishi Sunak was not planning to personally hand over the baton from last year’s UK Cop26 presidency, until climate advocates urged him to reconsider.

And yet. It matters to at least 33 African nations and Europe’s biggest economies. President Joe Biden is putting in an appearance after the US midterm elections are out of the way. Brazil’s president-elect Lula da Silva will head over to revive Amazon protections. Cyril Ramaphosa will bring his vision to wean South Africa off coal, in the hopes of securing finance that doesn’t drown the country in debt.

Because these moments are the best chances we have to focus minds. Collins Dictionary declared “permacrisis” its word of 2022. Every politician is under conflicting pressures. If they think they can fix war or inflation by abandoning climate commitments, we are all in trouble. It takes leadership to engage with the reality of the climate crisis and the efforts we owe one another.

Let’s demand better from our representatives: that they not only show face, but bring something to the table, listen and learn.

Much of Climate Home News’ coverage exposes initiatives that have not lived up to the hype; misguided, broken or downgraded promises. Accountability is essential. But don’t mistake our professional scepticism for cynicism. We also see the people trying, however imperfectly, to make things better.

We will have a team on the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh, dispatching daily newsletters and online coverage throughout the talks. Stay with us.

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Read more on: COP27 | UN climate talks