By Alexandra MacDonald at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland
In 1992, 30 years ago, more than 100 nations signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – a treaty designed to cut back on global emissions. Each country, developed and developing, agreed that they had a responsibility to fight climate change and that they must work together to address the growing issue.
It would take 25 years for a formal action agreement to take form. In Paris in 2015, a new treaty was signed to limit global warming to 1.5 - 2°C.The Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties and is treated as a landmark in the fight against climate change.
But has it worked? Not really, and emissions have continued to grow in Canada and abroad and the impacts of a warming planet are obvious and painful.
Now, at COP26 we’re scrambling to fill in the gaps left from the Paris Accord. This is where the issue lies - action. Over nearly three decades different COPs have asked questions about what climate change is and how to address it, but it is action after the rhetoric that is notably lacking. Already, scientific assessments have shown that national commitments made in Paris to curb greenhouse-gas emissions have fallen short of their stated goals.
COP26, the 26th annual UN Climate Summit, represents an opportunity to step up.
Decades of research, and experience that scientists, individuals, and industries alike are living through, have made it clear that the impacts of climate change have had – and will continue to have – drastic, far reaching, and possibly irreversible consequences for Earth. There is no shortage of research telling us that we are screwed. Or, rather, that we have screwed ourselves. From extreme weather, rising sea levels, and a loss of biodiversity, we are fast approaching a point of no return. Some researchers suggest that we have already gone too far.
The driving action started in Paris has not accelerated fast enough. COP26 could be the final opportunity for global parties to craft a collective agreement to curb climate change. It will also be an opportunity for world leaders to acknowledge the impact of unkept promises made in 2015 – and pledge to do better.
But, the reality is not so simple. Agreeing to save the planet is one thing, actually saving it is another.
Not all players can afford the game; and those countries with fewer resources and riches are those most likely to be negatively impacted by what is to come. And, indeed, we know that these players have already faced the consequences of climate change. We know that recent changes in biodiversity and climate threaten Earth’s integrity and that both issues have surpassed safe limits. We also know that the spheres of politics and science are intrinsically linked; though possibly not in a way that benefits the planet best. New discoveries about climate and biodiversity – and how these impact the world – affect political decisions. These decisions, in turn, affect policies that affect climate change, which, in turn, affect the world.
There are slivers of hope. Renewable energy sources have become more available and more cost effective over the last decade. The International Energy Agency has predicted that, under current policies, coal consumption will peak and begin its decline as early as 2025. Oil consumption will follow a decade later. For a global economy that runs on fossil fuels, the path toward renewable energy is going to be busy. Just as a snap of the fingers can’t change the world, a renewable energy system can’t be built in a day, even if it needs to be.
These are all issues that COP26 will examine over the coming two weeks. It starts with realizing how far we’ve fallen short when it comes to reducing emissions, and ends with trying to decide how to meet the lofty goals we have to set in order to avert the worst of the crisis we can no longer turn back from.
How do we mitigate loss and protect biodiversity, how do we adapt for coming change, how do we make these changes, what do we do to help those who cannot make the changes, and what is the consequence for those who have broken their promises and thus caused a fracture in the world that cannot be reversed?
Answers aren’t what is needed - action is.
Stay tuned for more updates from our representatives at COP26! Follow our social media for the latest developments during our journey at the summit: