Climate summit makes more promises, fails on hard measures

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We’re literally dying. Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

No binding agreements

On November 13, the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) concluded in Glasgow, Scotland. The two-week long conference was one of the biggest yet, with over 40,000 registered participants, 22,274 party delegates, 14,124 observers, and 3,886 media representatives. Many aspects of the climate crisis were discussed, and many decisions, statements, and resolutions came out of the conference. The outcomes were the result of the intense negotiations in the two-week conference, and months of formal and informal work outside of Glasgow. A final agreement or compromise was reached on Saturday, a day after the officially scheduled end time. The outcomes of the conference have been met with mixed reactions from people across the globe. Many climate activists took to Twitter to talk about it. Some were optimistic about the conference’s outcomes, but there is also a general attitude of disappointment towards the less than actionable statements that came from it, and many noted that the Glasgow Pact – a 10-page long document that serves as a follow-up to the 2015 Paris Agreement – is not legally binding.

To better understand what we should be taking away from this conference, I spoke with Emily Eaton, an associate professor in Geography and Environmental Studies at the U of R. “There are some hopeful takeaways,” Eaton said. “In general, it’s clear that countries are not promising to do enough, and the pace of change is too slow, but there are some positives. We need to phase out fossil fuels because they account for 86 per cent of climate change, and it’s the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, and for the first time we have mention of fossil fuels and people lobbying to phase down coal.”

Coal was a hot topic at the conference, and was the reason the final proceedings got delayed. The wording in the agreement was for coal to be phased out, but many countries that still rely heavily on coal resisted and pushed for a less concrete language of phase down instead. Said countries insisted that, to move into the energy of tomorrow, they couldn’t just scrap the resources they were using right now. Despite this resistance, the events around the Beyond Oil and Gas alliance were well attended. Eaton pointed out that this shows “that there is a growing recognition that a phase out of fossil fuels is necessary.” She believes the fact that it made such a splash in the global arena is really positive.

When it comes to Canada and climate change, the country made many promises at the conference. But Canada has failed to hit climate targets in the past, and these promises leave a lot of room for bureaucracy to get in the way. Canada announced that it would be ending its financing of global fossil fuel projects in 2022 and pledged to transition to clean energy. If fully implemented, this could free up a lot of money to provide a cleaner future for the planet. The Liberal party also reaffirmed one of its election pledges to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

 Another critical aspect of the conference was recommitting to keeping warming under the one-point five-degree Celsius level. This goal has been in place for a long time. It is a well-known fact among environmentalists and climate scientists that immediate and drastic action has to be taken to make that number a reality. But Eaton said it was clear to her that the promises made at the conference still aren’t enough to keep us on track.

“There was good evidence that it was not at all enough, there has been all sorts of reports in the last year, even from the International Energy Agency that in order to get to net zero before 2050, we can’t have any new fossil fuel infrastructure. There’s also the production gap report that came out before the conference that suggested there’s this huge gap between what countries are promising they will do and what we need to do to keep closer to 1.5,” Eaton said. “We are nowhere on track to keep warming below one point five degrees. Some countries did announce new initiatives at the COPs, but it’s been calculated that we’re still very far off and it depends on how you count, but were probably headed just over two or the high twos, and that’s if countries follow through on what they promised, and that’s a big if. Canada hasn’t hit any of its climate targets from any of the [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] agreements that have been negotiated,” she said, pointing to Canada’s failure to meet targets promised at other climate conventions like Kyoto, Copenhagen, and Paris. 

Delegates made agreements that strengthened the three pillars of climate action: adaptation, finance, and mitigation. Climate adaptation is the process of preparing solutions to deal with extreme climate events and climate changes, such as preparing for longer fire seasons, heatwaves, or flooding. Parties in attendance at the conference agreed on a work programme to define a global goal on adaptation to help identify the needs and solutions to countries already affected by the changing climate.

Finance issues were also discussed at length, and countries agreed that they needed to continue to support developing countries. The duty of developed nations to provide 100 billion dollars annually from economically exploited countries to aid in adaptation was also reaffirmed. However, skepticism still surrounds this as the developed nations failed to meet this goal the last time it was promised, and many, like Canada, continue to operate and profit from resource extraction projects that cause catastrophic harm to the environment and people.

Mitigation is the process of making climate change less severe by reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that are put into the atmosphere. During the conference, the persistent gap in emissions was acknowledged. As a result, parties collectively agreed to reduce emissions to close the gap and keep the rise in global temperature below 1.5°C.

Only time will tell if these measures and promises are enough to save the planet and protect us from larger-scale climate disasters. So even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, climate change isn’t waiting till it is over. The large-scale global coordination could benefit us in regard to helping get everyone on the same page. Still, it is up to individual countries to implement aggressive policies to curb the warming of the planet.

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