Foreign Policy

Leaders Determine Between Motion or Apathy as COP26 Begins

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The COP26 leaders summit begins in Glasgow, Scotland; Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party holds onto its majority in Japan’s elections; and Lebanon’s information minister angers Persian Gulf states over Yemen war comments.

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COP26 Kicks Off in Glasgow

World leaders gather in Glasgow, Scotland, today to kick off the U.N. climate summit, known as COP26, with the task of keeping the hope kindled in Paris six years ago alive.

As important as the 25,000 people in attendance over the course of the 12-day convention are those not present. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are the most high-profile absentees, though the two are expected to participate virtually.

Unlike Paris in 2015, this summit isn’t focused on reaching a new accord but in increasing countries ambitions to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. According to the United Nations, current pledges would still bring global temperatures 2.7 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, an increase that would have catastrophic effects on the planet and those living on it.

Opening the summit on Sunday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose government hosts and serves as chief whip for the summit, sounded the alarm. “If Glasgow fails, then the whole thing fails. The Paris Agreement will have crumpled at the first reckoning,” Johnson said.

Whether the conference is a success depends on countries like India, the world’s third largest carbon emitter and one of the few countries yet to announce a time frame to reach net zero emissions.

India, a heavy user of coal, has tried to claim the moral high ground by pointing out that its per capita emissions are much lower than comparable nations and the same rich nations that polluted their way to riches in the 19th and 20th centuries are now scolding developing countries when they follow the same route. (Although, as Vivek Wadhwa points out in Foreign Policy, India is already far exceeding its renewable energy goals.)

Accounting for the past and paying for the future will be a key theme in this year’s summit, with negotiations expected on a “loss and damage” fund to assist developing countries in rebuilding from disastrous climate events as well as progress expected on a $100 billion-a-year transition fund for developing countries that is currently short of its target.

G-20 jitters. Hope for an ambitious COP26 have been tempered by a lackluster G-20. The 20 richest nations, representing more than 80 percent of global GDP and, crucially, 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, wavered in a final communiqué issued on Sunday.

The document sums up the divisions in a group that includes geopolitical adversaries and still-developing countries. Instead of a group pledge to cut methane, a heat-trapping gas 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the G-20 merely acknowledged its dangers.

On coal, G-20 countries are trying to have it both ways, following China in its pledge to end financing of overseas coal projects but (like China) not taking the same steps with domestic coal plants.

The steel deal. A ray of hope could be found on the G-20 sidelines when the United States and European Union agreed to ease up on a trade war over steel imports, promising to consider “carbon intensity” levels in the production of steel and aluminum in future trade talks—a way of freezing out China’s so-called dirty steel from U.S. markets.

Double act. While U.S. President Joe Biden cajoles leaders in Glasgow to fight future climate change, he has been focused on boosting oil production now, asking OPEC countries over the weekend to boost oil supplies to keep fuel prices low. Asked about the dilemma, Biden said: “It does on the surface seem inconsistent” but argued fossil fuels aren’t going away, and in the meantime, he was protecting U.S. consumers.

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, the United States holds state and local elections. New York City will choose its mayor, and New Jersey and Virginia will elect new governors.

On Wednesday, Nov. 3, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission release the findings of a joint report into allegations of human rights violations in the Tigray conflict.

Finance Day at COP26 takes place, with a focus on mobilizing public and private finance toward climate initiatives.

On Thursday, Nov. 4, OPEC+ states hold a ministerial-level meeting.

On Friday, Nov. 5, South Korea’s People Power Party, the country’s main opposition, holds its presidential primary.

British Brexit Minister David Frost meets with his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, in Brussels to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.

What We’re Following Today

Japan’s election. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) kept its majority in Japan’s House of Representatives by a 28-seat margin in Sunday’s election, despite suffering some high-profile, constituency-level losses. The LDP’s 15-seat loss beats pollster expectations, which had pointed to a possible loss of the LDP’s outright majority. In a sign of shifting allegiances among the Japanese electorate, the conservative Japan Innovation Party appears to have leapfrogged the Komeito party to become the third largest party in the lower house.

U.S.-China tensions. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, held an hourlong meeting in Rome on Sunday, in what a State Department official described as an “exceptionally candid” exchange. The two had not met in person since an acrimonious summit in Alaska in March. This time, Taiwan was the point of division, with Blinken warning China to maintain the status quo while Wang accused the United States of undue interference.

“We require the United States to pursue a real one China policy, not a fake one China policy,” Wang said after the meeting, according to the Chinese foreign ministry.

The Gulf’s Lebanon rift. The fate of Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi hangs in the balance after a number of Persian Gulf states recalled their ambassadors over statements Kordahi made about the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia initially led the diplomatic boycott and was soon joined by Bahrain, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. In televised comments, Kordahi called the war in Yemen “futile” and said the Houthis were “defending themselves against an external aggression.”

North Macedonia’s next prime minister. North Macedonia’s prime minister, Zoran Zaev, resigned on Sunday following disappointing party results in local elections. Although the country’s opposition has called for a snap election in the wake of Zaev’s resignation, the Social Democratic Union-led coalition is expected to select a new leader instead.

France and Britain’s fish fight. A meeting between Johnson and French President Emmanuel on the sidelines of the G-20 summit has failed to heal a rift between the two countries triggered by a post-Brexit fishing rights dispute. The outcome of the Sunday meeting was itself discordant, as British officials contradicted French claims that the two had agreed to de-escalate tensions. The lack of resolution means a French threat to impose sanctions on Nov. 2 is still in effect.

New Zealand’s bird of the year is a bat. The country’s only native land mammal, the long-tailed bat or pekapeka-tou-roa, swept this year’s contest, winning nearly twice as many votes as its closest competitor, the kakapo or owl parrot, which took the title in 2020. “I think I’m going to be fired,” joked Laura Keown, the spokesperson for the contest run by Forest & Bird, a conservation charity.

Organizers allowed the public to vote for the bat in this year’s competition to raise awareness of its critically endangered status, spurring votes from all over the world in the process. The bat’s eligibility for victory is helped by the Maori language, whose word for bird, manu, can be applied to any flying creature.

It is not the first time the award, which prompts rival campaigns to advertise on billboards, has led to controversy. In 2019, the contest—which allows people anywhere in the world to vote—was almost derailed by claims of Russian interference. In 2020, around 1,500 votes were thrown out due to fraud.

One observer said Russian interest may have been genuine rather than an operation of the Kremlin ornithological service given the bar-tailed godwit, the 2015 Bird of the Year, migrates annually between New Zealand and eastern Russia.

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