On Oct. 31, the global focus will be on Glasgow, Scotland, for two weeks. Leaders, activists, and industry stakeholders will gather for the United Nations Climate Change Summit, where they will grind out new commitments and methodology to curb greenhouse emissions to slow global warming. As host, the United Kingdom has requested all attendees to submit more aggressive reductions targets for 2030. This round of U.N. climate talks was set to take place in 2020, but it was postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Paris Agreement Follow-up
In the 2015 Paris Accord, nations agreed to “work together” to limit the warming of the planet to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to preindustrial levels. The framework forced countries involved to report their greenhouse gas emissions, to maintain a fair practice in the carbon markets, and those richer nations deemed “most responsible” for the state of the planet to fund projects in poorer countries. The agreement laid the groundwork for the agenda in Glasgow.
What Is COP26?
Every year, leaders from around the world convene and discuss the climate crisis and how to combat it. This fall marks the 26th gathering of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), nicknamed COP26. Representatives of 200 nations will be joined by environmental groups, scientists, business representatives, journalists, and diplomats to hash out the details and unfulfilled promises of the 2015 Paris agreement.
The most controversial portion of the Glasgow meeting promises to be how the international carbon markets should work. Who will be held to what standards, and how are those standards decided? Some climate policy experts have suggested fining countries that refuse to participate in a global initiative.
Another issue to be addressed is helping struggling countries, which lack proper funds and infrastructure, to develop sustainability. In 2010, wealthier nations agreed to finance the climate crisis in developing countries, contributing a collective $100 billion a year. This goal has consistently failed to be met; in response President Joe Biden recently announced that he would double U.S. contributions, hoping other major economies will follow.
Immediate action following COP26 is being painted by climate experts as a life-or-death scenario. If that is the case, how do they plan to hold industry leaders and governments responsible for failing to meet their emission-reduction standards? Fines or other “punishments” will have to be agreed upon and established in Glasgow.
Attendees from poorer countries have communicated the struggle they face to afford the high travel costs. Without inclusive representation, the decisions made could be weak. Limited access to vaccines also disproportionately harms countries such as Kenya and Mexico, whose climate activists cannot get the jabs they require to attend. Scotland’s health labs are apparently ill-prepared to process coronavirus tests at the rate necessary to host the more than 23,000 people expected.
COP26 is also occurring at a time of strained internal relations. The United States and China, responsible for 40% of global emissions according to the Global Carbon Project, are amid a standoff in the South China Sea. Its recent exit from the European Union has created an awkward atmosphere between the United Kingdom and EU members.
Another obstacle for climate activists and leaders is domestically based. Each country is struggling to legitimize the issue of climate change on its home turf. Domestic politics have historically been a factor in making aggressive commitments to climate-related changes. Canada withdrew in 2011 from the Kyoto Protocol due in part to financial benefits in refusing to cut back on emissions. Back in 2017, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accord. He disagreed with the “disadvantages” placed on the United States to the “exclusive benefit of other countries.” According to the National Economic Research Associated, America could lose up to 2.7 million jobs by 2025 based on the requirements the United States agreed to meet. The former president not only took issue with the economic toll on American taxpayers but also the unfair advantages it gave other countries such as China and India. As soon as Biden took office, he rejoined the Paris agreement.
Pope Francis Backs Out
The Vatican has confirmed Pope Francis will not travel to Scotland for the U.N.’s climate conference. Many were hopeful of rumors the 84-year-old would attend. Last month, in an interview, Francis shared he was planning to be in attendance, but it depended on his health. He had surgery on his colon in July and is still recovering.
He has made caring for the environment a hallmark of his service. He has warned that “damage to earth threatens life itself.” Recently, Pope Francis and other religious leaders made a joint statement, offering solutions to avoiding “an unprecedented ecological crisis.”
At the “Faith and Science: Towards COP26” meeting, Francis was joined by representatives of Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and Jainism. Three-fourths of the world’s population was represented by their collective leadership. The pope urged action at COP26 to keep the planet from becoming uninhabitable and asked wealthier countries to take the lead in reducing their emissions and financing similar efforts by poorer countries.
~ Read more from Keelin Ferris.