“There is sufficient evidence to draw the most fundamental of conclusions: now is the time to declare a state of planetary emergency. The point is not to admit defeat, but to match the risk with the necessary action to protect the global commons for our own future.”Professor Johan Rockström, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
The 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris (COP 21), one of the ongoing series of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) summits, has been described as the first successful pathway that determined the carbon limits 200 countries would voluntarily accept in order to reverse the Earth’s increasing temperature gains resulting from human industrial activities. The key drive in those negotiations was to try to limit a rise of not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels through each country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) to lower carbon emissions. The ensuing Paris Agreement stated that every five years each nation would bring an updated NDC to the UNFCCC.
Those ambitions do not come close to the reductions necessary to stop a cascading catastrophe. Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, has just issued a stark warning to the world. If this year’s Glasgow summit (COP 26) were to fail, she said, there would be “less food, so probably a crisis in food security. It would leave a lot more people vulnerable to terrible situations, terrorist groups and violent groups. It would mean a lot of sources of instability.”
COP 26 was delayed from 2020 because of the pandemic and starts in a few days. This is the 26th time since 1995 that the UN has held a world conference with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, more recently, searching for the means to move forward on issues such as climate justice as it relates to equitable pathways for developing nations to adapt to worsening climate scenarios that they have not contributed to. Heavily industrialised nations such as Canada, Great Britain, Germany and the United States have historically had the largest impact on the increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
Three pillars of climate change negotiations will present themselves at COP 26:
- Mitigation methods such as the phasing out of coal as the world community strives to drastically slow down carbon emissions.
- Adaptation to a rising level of crises such as flooding and drought to enable the world to continue to flourish. Adaptation also refers to ecological protections.
- The concept of ‘loss and damage’, which has gained traction in negotiations in the last decade. Small island states have led the push to demand that rich countries accept responsibility for the buildup of GHGs as they demonstrate their vulnerability to higher ocean levels created by melting glaciers throughout the world from the Himalayas to Greenland. Hand in hand with ‘loss and damage’ goes financial responsibility. ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/
It was agreed at the Paris summit that by 2020 the rich industrial countries with their financial partners would give US$100 billion a year to other countries in extreme need. This hasn’t happened. Canada and the United States are laggards.
It’s common knowledge that under deadbeat climate-deniers Trump and company the US plumbed new depths in climate misinformation, even fostering an aggressive anti-science campaign to maliciously stop efforts to forestall climate breakdown, and ultimately withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. But what about Canada’s attitude? In a now infamous statement, the Canadian government under Trudeau declared that acquiring the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline for CA$4.5 billion was an opportunity to finance non-fossil-fuel energy possibilities! The pipeline, it stated, was “an unavoidable element in a national climate change plan”! Forget about the last vow by Canada to stop subsidies to the oil and gas sectors by 2023. Can that be possible as we continue to finance other pipeline initiatives through subsidies?
For many, there is a fourth pillar in the COP negotiations, and that is to deliver substantial climate justice not by 2050 with net-zero GHG magical schemes, but by having citizens’ assemblies acknowledged as offering a viable and democratic pathway towards climate justice.
Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg had this to say:
“In my view, success would be that people finally start to realise the urgency of the situation and realise that we are facing an existential crisis, and that we are going to need big changes, that we’re going to need to uproot the system, because that’s where the change is going to come… The change is going to come when people are demanding change. So we can’t expect everything to happen at these conferences.”
Many people believe she is correct.
Not only will governments, oil lobbyists and bankers attend the Glasgow Summit. Undoubtedly there will be thousands of protesters and NGOs present too, but will they be listened to by heads of state? Activism must proceed in individual countries to prod governments to climate action. Here are three examples: Norwegian youth are taking their government to the European Court of Human Rights in a bid to stop drilling for oil in the Arctic, saying that these new oil explorations are a threat to their future wellbeing. Extinction Rebellion promises to be a major player in civil disobedience activities around the world during COP 26 (October 31 to November 12) to demand that governments drastically speed up their climate initiatives around the world. Meanwhile, Insulate Britain activities have shut down roads in a bid to get the UK government to properly insulate Britain’s woefully leaky houses (the worst in Europe) by 2030 – which would reduce that country’s GHG emissions by almost 15% – as part of a total decarbonization strategy.
Read about Climate Outreach’s inclusive and inspiring events that will be taking place at COP 26: climateoutreach.org/public-engagement-events-cop26/
As the government delegation prepares to present to the world Canada’s inadequate climate mitigation goals and tangible actions already in place, the promise given two years ago by Trudeau for a federal programme under a Just Transition Act, aimed at retraining oil and gas workers for renewable energy employment, hasn’t materialized. If Canada’s Liberals truly wish to wean Canada away from the fossil fuel industry, why hasn’t this program taken off? More words and no deeds. Canada’s place at the Glasgow Summit should be one of inspiration for Canada’s youth. So far they see only broken promises.
Finally, it really comes down to the way governments include their citizens in the climate mitigation process. The ‘Action for Climate Empowerment’ section of the UNFCCC commits nations to engage their citizens on climate change – something that is often sidelined in the main agenda. Let’s hold our government accountable. Often individualism, as portrayed through capitalism’s literalism and lacklustre creativity, whether that be through the inactions of a country’s citizens or demonstrated by individual nations, is the curse visited upon ecological connectivity. Ecological and social health comes through community, not through separate entities’ refusal to communicate. It’s time to be world citizens, if total climate breakdown is not to occur.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, while it was very alarming, was quite helpful in helping to focus minds,” said Alok Sharma, president-designate of COP 26. “The question is whether or not countries are willing in Glasgow to go forward and commit to consensus on keeping 1.5C alive – that’s where the challenge will be… All of these people are pretty adamant that what has to emerge from Glasgow is for us to be able to say we’ve kept 1.5 C alive.”
Please visit cop26coalition.org/peoples-summit/ to see how people’s assemblies will run concurrently with the UN-sponsored COP 26 and build climate action plans despite world government procrastination.