I was asked to summarize what the results of COP26 were. Let me begin by explaining what it was: A two-week summit of world leaders, climate activists, scientists, educators, indigenous leaders, and youth from around the world, on the topic of climate change. Given that, you’d think that the C stood for climate but really COP stands for Conference of the Parties, in this case, the parties being 197 nations that in 1992 agreed to a new environmental pact: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The 26th annual meeting took place the first two weeks of November in Glasgow, Scotland. Not only did President Biden attend but Governor Pritzker also attended. A couple of local celebs—Rachel Rosner, President of Citizens’ Greener Evanston (CGE) and Program Coordinator of It’s Our Future (IOF) and Lily Aaron, ETHS student, Evanston Sunrise Hub Coordinator and CGE Board member—were also there with IOF, a program of Oak Park-based Seven Generations Ahead. More about this program later in this blog post.
Rachel suggested that I listen to the podcast How To Save A Planet episode named We Go Inside the COP26 Climate Talks. I think it is a good wrap-up but I have to admit that I was a little put off by the humor, since climate change is such a serious subject. While I understand why they want to lighten up the subject, I personally find it very upsetting and, frankly, hard to write about. I appreciate the value of trying to distill and disseminate, though. I found this report made by Axios to be valuable to listen to as well.
The How To Save A Planet reporter Rachel Waldholz described COP as “… a climate-themed trade show, a giant rolling protest, series of TED Talks or a SXSW-style festival all rolled up into a UN meeting.”
Keep 1.5 Alive
This was a slogan or battle cry at the conference. What this means is holding the rise in temperature on the planet to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic consequences. We are currently at 1.1. For any non-scientists who may be reading this, a 1.5 degree Celsius rise is equivalent to a 2.7 degree Fahrenheit rise. These are small numbers with enormous consequences. This article on KQED’s website does a good job of expanding on why to not cross this line and how to not. Anyone who has read a blog post of mine knows that I love the English language. So many good options! The resources I was reading and listening to in my research prompted me to compare and contrast catastrophic versus cataclysmic. They both came up a lot. Catastrophic: involving or causing sudden great damage or suffering. Cataclysmic: relating to or denoting a violent natural event. See above, very upsetting.
Down and Out
One area of the agreement that was disappointing to many is that the language around the future of coal plants was watered down. From phase out to phase down. And the three top producers—China, India, and the U.S.—did not make this pledge. The final language in the Glasgow Climate Pact is that countries “phase out unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” This language is notable in that this was the first time in the 26 years of meetings that fossil fuels had been called out as the primary source of global warming. If you were able to pause to read the article I linked above, you’ll understand that many stakeholders believe that it’s absolutely necessary to phase out coal plants to keep 1.5 alive. Of local interest is that Illinois Governor Pritzker has committed to phasing out all of the coal plants in Illinois: all investor-owned coal plants by 2030 and coal-fired power plants owned by municipalities by 2045. I wonder how many other states have made this kind of commitment?
141 countries agreed to end deforestation by 2030. So it seems that politicians are beginning to understand the power of trees. Apparently, there was a pledge made in 2014 to end deforestation that was not upheld. Our job is to urge our leaders to stay true to these pledges.
Sometimes it feels like we’re the only ones who talk about methane. That appears to be changing. The Global Methane Pledge was announced at COP26, and several countries signed onto it in anticipation of the summit. The total number of countries is up to 110. The pledge now includes six of the world’s 10 biggest methane emitters: the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Mexico. We sometimes use this pie chart in presentations to illustrate why landfilling food scraps is not the right choice. I could write an entire blog post about this chart. The solution that I’m hearing the most talk about recently is the fixing of leaks in petroleum and natural gas systems.
There is a fund for adaptation, the Green Climate Fund, that richer countries are supposed to be paying into for poorer countries. This fund is to aid countries that will be hit hardest by climate change to do what they can to prepare and rebuild. The leaders of these poorer countries are imploring the leaders of the richer countries to keep their promises. The U.S. had pledged $3 billion for this fund and has only delivered a third of that to date. The former administration made no contributions to it in the last four years.
It’s Our Future
It’s Our Future is a project that will equip young leaders in Oak Park/River Forest to advocate for climate change solutions that benefit all members of our community. Rachel told me that the youth she accompanied to Glasgow were thrilled to be with like-minded people from all over the world. They worked with Oak Park-based One Earth Collective that puts on the excellent One Earth Film Festival to live stream a conversation with some of the youth from countries that will be most impacted by climate change. You can watch it at this link.
If you’d like to support the work of It’s Our Future, you can do that by donating to Seven Generations Ahead. If you’d like to support the One Earth Film Festival, you can do that through their parent organization One Earth Collective. If you know any high schoolers in Chicagoland who are interested in climate change activism and would like help in getting their voices heard, there is room in the program for more members.
I hope that you’ll be able to read, listen to and watch the links I’ve provided. I know that it doesn’t sound like good news, but the fact that they meet every year is encouraging to me and means that progress is made. And just to show that I don’t completely lack a sense of humor, check out this webcomic that shows A Timeline of Earth’s Average Temperature Since the Last Ice Age Glaciation.