Some called it a success, many believed it was a total failure. Either way the COP26 is over now, and we are ready to talk about it.
The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference was the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, held in Glasgow, Scotland. Between the 31st of October and the 12th of November; leaders, representatives, and politicians from nearly 200 countries participated in the summit and made commitments.
Since the summit ended, almost every climate activist, expert and scientist has talked about it. Did we achieve enough? Or was it just a show, to show that the world leaders care?
There’s no denying that some progress has been made. A new climate agreement was signed off and for the first-time countries agreed to act on fossil fuels.
In this report, two of our very own Green Party leaders, Alex Tyrrell and Naomi Hunter commented on the pledges made. Alex is the leader of the Green Party of Quebec and Naomi holds the same title in Saskatchewan. I asked them if they think the pledges made during the summit were enough, or more needs to be done?
The first major deal of the summit was about saving forests across the world. More than 100 world leaders promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030.
The countries that signed the pledge include; Canada, Brazil, Russia, China, Indonesia, the US, and the UK, which cover around 85 percent of the world’s forests.
The pledge includes almost 19.2 billion dollars of public and private funds. Some of the funding will go to developing countries to restore damaged land, tackle wildfires and support indigenous communities.
Governments of 28 countries also committed to remove deforestation from the global trade of food and other agricultural products such as palm oil, soya and cocoa.
Alex Tyrrell of the Green Party of Quebec:
While efforts to end deforestation are important, this idea that we will continue doing it until 2030 – when most of the current world leaders will no longer be in power amounts to very little. Canadian activists are in the middle of the largest civil disobedience movement in our history, and it happens to be an effort to stop the logging of ancient forests in the province of B.C. These forests could be destroyed in as little as 7 months. Making commitments for almost a decade into the future will not have any kind of meaningful impact on this movement.
Naomi Hunter of the Green Party of Saskatchewan:
Canada signed a declaration “to halt and reverse forest loss by 2030” which extends to 3.6 billion hectares of forest worldwide. This sounds good, but there’s reason for skepticism initially given Brazil’s and Canada’s current deforestation agendas. Then, when one learns that Indonesia has already said they likely won’t reach the “halt and reverse” goal, hope fades on this pledge.
The declaration is unlikely to address the main kind of deforestation and degradation happening in Canada: the clear cutting of primary or old-growth forests and replanting with single-species monoculture plantations, often sprayed with toxic herbicides.
I recently visited the Fairy Creek Blockade on Vancouver Island where activists have been desperately trying to keep the chainsaws out of the last remaining intact Old Growth Watershed in BC. These massive, ancient trees are some 800 years old, and the ecosystem is rare. The agreement Canada signed does not halt the destruction of that temperate rainforest. Sites with the potential to grow very large trees cover less than three percent of the province of B.C. These ecosystems are effectively the “white rhino” of old growth forests. They are almost extinguished and will not recover from logging.
Here in Saskatchewan, and across the rest of Canada, we also have continued and catastrophic clear cutting throughout the boreal forest. Despite the shortcomings of this declaration, our planet’s forest defenders can take heart and be strengthened by such high-level commitments.
Canadian activists are in the middle of the largest civil disobedience movement in our history, and it happens to be an effort to stop the logging of ancient forests in the province of B.C.Alex Tyrrell
Methane Gas Pollution
One of the most significant accomplishments of the summit were the new pledges on methane gas pollution. On November 2nd, as the summit entered its second week, an alliance of some one hundred countries, led by the US and European Union pledged to reduce methane emissions by thirty percent by 2030.
Although methane only exists at roughly two parts per million in the atmosphere, its molecule (CH4) traps as much as eighty-five times more heat than the more abundant polluting CO2. While carbon dioxide remains in the sky like a warming blanket for hundreds of years, methane largely dissipates in roughly a decade which makes it a ripe target for nations to attack in their effort to slow the ominous quickening pace of global warming.
Reducing methane emissions is very important work. It requires investments in infrastructure, a strong regulatory framework and independent monitoring, particularly since it is very difficult to track methane emissions from leaking pipelines, gas infrastructure, garbage, and agriculture.
In Canada, much of our methane emissions are from the oil, gas, and agriculture sectors.
Thirteen percent of Canada’s GHG emissions is attributed to methane, but many experts say that amount is likely much higher. The oil and gas industry are a huge contributor to methane emissions. They intentionally vent it off during petroleum refinement, and orphaned wells can leak methane. Leak detection is a major problem in the industry and current regulations have sites checked three times per year to catch these. This is obviously inadequate and needs to be upped. Canada also has hundreds of abandoned oil and gas wells that need to be plugged. This can be expensive but it’s very important that this be done immediately.
I am a farmer myself and I have a lot of friends with different kinds of farms. Emissions can be reduced by covering manure pools with straw, or by altering the acidity of the manure to deactivate the micro-organisms that produce methane. There are also diet changes that can be made to cattle feed to reduce methane emissions. As with any helpful environmental practice, the government can incentivize methods like this that are known to help. If the agriculture industry is going to improve on this, emissions must be lowered, or the numbers of cattle decreased.
Major coal-using countries pledged to abandon coal. Countries such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile that are extremely coal dependent are among over 40 nations that want to shift away from coal. They committed to ending all investment in new coal power generation domestically and internationally. They have also agreed to phase out coal power in the 2030s for major economies, and the 2040s for poorer nations.
Meanwhile some of the world’s biggest coal-user countries, including China and the US, did not sign up.
The goal of eliminating the use of coal is a key step forward. However, without the main users of the resource signing on and with relatively modest targets and timelines for the countries who did sign on this deal is more symbolic than concrete. We will need to achieve stronger commitments in future negotiations.
One of the letdowns of COP26 was the last-minute amendment from the floor to change wording in the final agreement from phase-out to phase-down of coal.
The IPCC has informed the world that 45 percent reduction of CO2 from 1990 levels is necessary by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Neither of those goals is possible with continued extraction and combustion of coal.
We must find the financing to help developing countries meet their energy needs without relying on 18th century technology.Naomi Hunter
We must find the financing to help developing countries meet their energy needs without relying on 18th century technology. At the same time, we must remove any subsidies, incentives and supports for coal extraction and combustion in Canada for domestic use or export. As with prior COP conferences, Greens will grieve the declared deficiencies surely, then continue the work needed to mitigate the unfolding climate catastrophe.
For many people watching the COP, the most notable event occurred on November tenth when the United States and China made a joint declaration. The two superpowers pledged to work with each other on several climate-related actions. The declaration covers sixteen issues ranging from cutting carbon dioxide and methane emissions to tackling illegal deforestation.
The move surprised many since the two nations have been on loggerheads over several disputes for the past five years.
Any collaboration with China on the environment is critical. The country is responsible for massive emissions yet also has the manufacturing capacity to produce green technology for countries around the world.
It is no doubt a hopeful sign that China and the US released a joint declaration. There are many encouraging aspects of their recent agreement including their intent to cooperate on: distributed generation policies that encourage integration of solar, storage, and other clean power solutions closer to electricity users; and energy efficiency policies and standards to reduce electricity waste. The United States leaves us with a lofty goal of 100 percent carbon pollution-free electricity by 2035. That sounds hopeful until one considers that both countries’ plans include heavy reliance on nuclear energy as well as the unproven technologies of carbon capture.
Further, these two nations have the largest militaries in the world, with the US alone responsible for more emissions from its various war machines than the total emissions of more than 140 countries combined.
It is quite probable that the lack of accounting for military emissions in our global agreements will alone make them useless.Naomi Hunter
It is quite probable that the lack of accounting for military emissions in our global agreements will alone make them useless. If we are to mitigate the worst of climate change from taking hold, we must address these heavily armed players. We must organize for peace and disarmament as robustly as we do for reduced carbon.
The Severity of the Crisis
Many said the summit failed to adequately address the severity of the climate crisis.
Some climate activists and campaigners believed the COP26 was just an exclusionary summit that became a public relations exercise.
In the meantime, there were people who believed the fact that this summit was held should be celebrated. Regardless of the quality of the summit, only one thing can make it a real success: if countries turn their promises into action.
Within the environmental movement there are mixed vibes on the importance that should be attributed to these global climate summits. On the one hand there are many world leaders who make commitments at these summits purely as public relations without any plans to achieve the objectives they have committed to. On the other hand, the outcome of these negotiations, be it failure or success will be determinant in the global fight against climate change. I think that these summits are a moment to discuss and draw attention to these issues but that the world leaders are insincere in their commitments and negotiations. Under the current context, protesting as much as possible in the lead up to these summits and while negotiations are ongoing is essential. We must pressure world leaders to go beyond talking points and take meaningful action for the future of the planet.
I think that these summits are a moment to discuss and draw attention to these issues but that the world leaders are insincere in their commitments and negotiations.Alex Tyrrell
COP26 was an annual international gathering to reach an imperfect consensus, and that was achieved. It is also correct to label COP26 both a failure and a success. Time will tell. The important thing is to not give up the work either in despair or celebration. This work will never end for us. Anthropocentric climate change is here.
We must continue to hold governments and industry accountable for their promises. We can’t give up on the majority of the world’s peoples who are the least responsible yet suffer the most.
We must continue to organize in the grassroots to gain more electoral success and thus a stronger presence in halls of power. COP26 saw a record number of elected Green representatives including Canada’s Elizabeth May and freshman MP Mike Morrice. I believe the growing Green influence at UNFCCC is a major factor in keeping us in the ‘hopeful’ column. The other major societal influencers being the climate activists. Both streams of workers usually bubble up from the grassroots, and they need our encouragement