Perhaps the biggest obstacle to progress lies not in Glasgow, but in each nation’s capitals. Each country is fighting a domestic battle that will determine the international credibility of COP26.
National withdrawal from the UNFCCC has happened before. Canada’s 2011 exit from the Kyoto Protocol and the US’s temporary 2017 departure from the Paris Agreement had domestic causes, and domestic politics have long been the decisive factor for a country’s climate commitments at COP meetings.
The framework of the Paris Agreement recognises this by allowing governments to make climate pledges that can vary from country to country, as long as national climate action increases in ambition over time.
But a 2020 UN report found that current government pledges put the world on track for 3 degrees Celsius of warming. Ambition is nowhere near where it needs to be.
Yet, there is hope. While many government proposals risk being empty words, the latest spike in European gas prices and the recent UK fuel shortages provide incentives for some governments, including the UK as COP host, to fast-track elements of their green growth strategies by electrifying home heating and transport.
Similarly, the success of the Green Party in the recent German elections, with 14.8 per cent of votes, sends an important signal of public support for climate action in a major economy.
As much as we should pay close attention to the UN climate talks, we should never forget about the importance of national climate policy and the role of voters’ attitudes for shaping leadership on the world stage.
Federica Genovese is Senior Lecturer in Government at the University of Essex, UK. Patrick Bayer is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at the University of Strathclyde, UK. This commentary first appeared on The Conversation.