On November 18, the American Security Project held an on-the-record conversation entitled “COP26 and the Future of Climate Diplomacy.” The virtual event was moderated by ASP CEO, Patrick Costello, and featured remarks from Sherri Goodman, Senior Fellow in the Polar Institute and Environmental Change & Security Program at the Wilson Center; Scott Moore, Director of the China Programs and Strategic Initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania; and Robert Orr, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Policy and former Special Advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General on climate change.
Goodman opened the discussion by noting that COP26 marked an important “paradigm shift” indicating the mainstreaming of climate change in policy planning and security conversations. Addressing climate change is now at the center of foreign policy and COP26 convened a diverse set of stakeholders, in addition to nation-states, to establish goals for decarbonizing the economy, cutting methane emissions, and addressing deforestation.
Orr noted that while global summits alone do not solve problems, they are useful in focusing the mind of policymakers. In this regard, the summit in Glasgow was important, but must also be viewed as part of an ongoing process to address climate change. Looking ahead, Orr said the 2022 summit in Egypt will build upon the progress made in Glasgow and track the implementation of pledges and commitments. An important innovation at Glasgow was the mobilization of private actors, particularly the financial industry, given their ability to align investment portfolios with net-zero goals.
Moore began with positive news on the deployment of renewable sources of electricity, citing a recent International Energy Agency report finding renewable energy to be growing faster than any other technology in history with rapidly decreasing costs. However, Moore struck a negative tone on the climatic front, noting that we are witnessing more rapid and large-scale climatic responses and can expect severe climate-related events of increasing frequency and ferocity. He emphasized that China will play a major role in addressing climate change—they view addressing climate as a symbol of China’s rise and the development and deployment of clean technology as a driver of their economic growth.
Questions from the audience ranged from why limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is so important to shifting from a supply-side approach to addressing the climate crisis to a demand-side approach. Additional questions concerned the role of the Department of Defense in tackling climate change, evolutions on Capitol Hill in how Congress views the climate crisis and whether bipartisan consensus is being formed on policy responses, and the consequences of corporate “greenwashing.”