The main battle lines shaping up at the Glasgow talks, known as the 26th session of the Conference of Parties, or COP26, have to do with who is responsible for the warming of the planet that is already underway, who should do what to keep it from getting worse, and how to live with the damage already done.
The venue is itself a reminder. In the mid-19th century, Glasgow was a center of heavy industry and shipbuilding. Its power and wealth rose as Britain conquered nations across Asia and Africa, extracting their riches and becoming the world’s leading industrial power, until the United States took the mantle.
The largest share of the emissions that have already heated the planet came mainly from the United States and Europe, including Britain, while the largest share of emissions produced right now comes from China, the world’s factory.
In some cases, the divisions in Glasgow pit advanced industrialized countries, including the United States and Europe, against emerging economies, including China, India, and South Africa. In other cases, they set large emerging polluters, like China and India, against small vulnerable countries, including low-lying island nations in the Pacific and Caribbean, which want more aggressive action against emissions.
Tensions over money are so profound that they threaten to derail cooperation.
In 2010, rich countries had promised to pay $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries address climate change. Some of that money has been paid but the full amount will not materialize until 2023, three years late, according to the latest plan announced by a group of industrialized countries.
Even more fraught is the idea of industrialized countries also paying reparations to vulnerable nations to compensate for the damage already done. Known in diplomatic circles as a fund for loss and damage, discussions about this have been postponed for years because of opposition from countries like the United States.