One of the first rules of water safety is don’t panic. When you find yourself in deep or dangerous waters staying calm can keep you alive. Flailing makes you sink.
World leaders gathered at COP26 have largely ignored that advice. As expected, the opening speeches featured a rhetorical arm flailing race.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the world is “one minute to midnight” and that climate change is a “doomsday device.” Prince Charles said COP26 is the “last chance saloon” to stop climate change while the UN Secretary General António Guterres said, “We are digging our own graves.”
Filling the venue with rhetorical methane overheats the conversation and makes it harder to forge consensus and durable solutions.
When the Republican delegation arrives in a few days they will likely take a more nuanced approach that will confront the risks of climate change responsibly without the risk enhancing flailing.
A better approach was stated well by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who said, “The challenge of combating climate change … will be met by those who are largely not in this room. It will be our scientists, technologists, engineers, entrepreneurs, industrialists and financiers that will chart this path to net zero – and it is up to us as leaders to back them in.”
Morrison’s comments were largely in line with our free economies are clean economies report that shows that free economies are twice as clean as less free economies. Policy humility in the face of superior private sector actors is a virtue that is elusive for central planners. Economic freedom is the solution. Innovation isn’t a tool in the toolbox; it’s the engine.
Earnestness and emotion have their place, but for COP26 to be successful world leaders should follow the advice of Abraham Lincoln.
“Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy,” he warned in 1838. Instead, Lincoln said we need solutions, “[H]ewn from the solid quarry of sober reason … Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defense.”
To move COP26 beyond panic and pandering, the Party of Lincoln would be wise to apply Lincoln’s timeless advice.