Young activists are right to doubt the pledges of governments, financial firms, and the fossil-fuel industry.

As the second week of the COP26 United Nations global climate talks began in Glasgow on Monday, the Washington Post published a truly remarkable piece of reporting that will surely demoralize the hardworking people gathered in the convention hall trying to hammer out an agreement. A team led by the Post’s veteran climate analyst Chris Mooney went through the emissions data proffered by countries at the summit, and found that they were in many cases wildly wrong. Malaysia, for instance, claimed that its forests are sucking up so much carbon that its net emissions are smaller than tiny Belgium’s—even though most researchers are convinced that clearing peatlands for palm-oil plantations, as Malaysia has been doing, is the very definition of a carbon bomb. The Central African Republic reported that its land absorbs 1.8 billion tons of carbon a year; the Post termed it “an immense and improbable amount that would effectively offset the annual emissions of Russia.” The worst-case scenario: the emissions data could be off by twenty-three per cent over all, or roughly the equivalent of China’s emissions.