Today marks the final day of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, leaving the world looking to the dire future of climate change.
Starting in 1992, this conference of parties (COP), in accordance with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), aims to tackle climate change and environmental concerns facing the world on the global scale. According to COP26’s website, the conference’s goal is to “accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC.”
A COP26 spokesperson says it has never before been as clear that this is a “code red for the climate,” as seen with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
When looking at the environmental crisis on the national level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made substantive promises regarding Canada’s fight against climate change in the early days of this year’s conference. He promised to reduce oil and gas emissions by 45 per cent by 2030, and announced the goal of moving towards net zero emissions for the electricity grid by 2035, as well as joining the Global Methane Pledge.
But as the event comes to an end, and leaders head back to their corners of the globe, just what kind of lasting impact will COP26 have?
This year’s COP: looking at the interconnectedness of climate change
Dr. Nirupama Agrawal, professor in disaster and emergency management, explains that events such as COP26 are necessary as they bring together communities with common goals, saying that with so much at stake “the world is paying attention, and with our youth invested all in, now is the time to harness all that energy and momentum properly.
“What I mean by ‘properly’ is to be mindful of the multifaceted and complex nature of the issues, and to not get distracted by the rhetoric and miss the point,” Agrawal clarifies. “The point is to recognize the underlying root causes for the devastating impacts of climate-related disasters that lie in the decisions made by humans over centuries and even millennia.”
When looking at how this conference differed to its previous years, Charles Hopkins, United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) chair at York, discusses the importance of this year’s focus on the interconnectedness of environmental issues.
“What seems to be happening now with this COP is a broadening of perspective from just climate itself to other aspects of sustainability. This is sort of an early time trying to look at the relationship between biodiversity loss and biodiversity change and climate.”
Hopkins also stresses the importance of using COP as a way of looking at these issues surrounding climate change in a more holistic manner, and that there is a new “idea of looking at things in a much more collective way, instead of isolating that it’s just about climate change.” This can include environmental impacts, threats to biodiversity, and social activism in the broader sense of climate change.
This past year saw fires, earthquakes, and flooding scouring the globe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Agrawal says that we can prevent disasters by reducing societal and systemic vulnerabilities — the question is just how to do this.
“Most of the environmental issues today are the result of reckless modification to it with a poor understanding of the natural world that is highly dynamic and connected. To resolve these basically human-created problems we need a plethora of measures, including nature-based solutions and new technologies.”
“There is no planet B”: social activist response to COP26 summit
“Without generalizing too much,” starts Ashraf Hutchcraft, chief communications officer for the environmental and urban change students’ association (EUCSA), “it seems that previous generations have proven their unwillingness, or inability, to affect meaningful climate actions.
“This is a systemic issue, and no matter how many generations rise up against the systems that have perpetuated the grave climate crisis, if that system is not changed, then every new generation’s attempts at solutions will be just as futile as the last ones’ were,” says Hutchcraft.
Protests broke out globally during COP26 with concerned citizens across the globe making their voices heard. Hundreds of protestors flocked to Queen’s Park last Saturday to show their frustration with the governments making ill informed decisions regarding climate change.
“To see massive demonstrations, and people in the streets, for people to answer to polls — this is all part of the energy to move governments. Now at the same time, we can’t just rely on governments to fix it because there is no pill.”
“Just as there is no planet B, there is no pill,” Hopkins states.
Hutchcraft says that the fact that the protests were organized by environmental, student, and labour groups demonstrates how the looming environmental crisis affects every sector of society.
“The pleading nature of some of the protest signs speaks to the desperation many people feel in a world where the rich are getting richer at the expense of the environment, and how governments seem to cater to their needs at the expense of the most marginalized groups, who will be most affected by rapid climate change,” says Hutchcraft.
“The protests at Queen’s Park were emblematic of the direness of the climate situation and the unwillingness of politicians, of all stripes, to make meaningful change towards a just and sustainable future,” Hutchcraft says.
The protest coincided with the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice, in which large protests were planned globally to address the need for intersectional environmental justice.
Indigenous land considerations at COP26
With talks of global sustainability and rights of the land comes the necessary considerations of implications on Indigenous communities.
COP26 held various sessions and hosted speakers to gain Indigenous perspectives on the effects of climate change. The COP26 spokesperson says representatives from “Indigenous and local communities will be participating in events throughout COP26” to demonstrate leadership in adapting and mitigating climate change.
“As stewards of 80 per cent of the world’s remaining biodiversity, Indigenous peoples are leaders in how to develop nature-based, resilient, and effective solutions to climate change.” Comments on specific measures that will be planned or taken were not given.
“The good news is that I think there is a willingness now to listen to Indigenous perspectives,” says Hopkins, continuing on to say that while this desire for consideration is improving, it’s not happening fast enough.
Indigenous communities across the country are still lacking clean drinking water and are disproportionately exposed to increased pollution, signalling the importance of having Indigenous environmental representatives at a conference such as COP26.
Aviva Gale-Buncel, third-year representative for EUCSA says that despite the interest in Indigenous inclusion in COP26, Canada is still committing acts of colonial violence from the government and RCMP on the home front, going on to say that if Indigenous rights were respected, both nationally and globally, “we would not be in a climate crisis.”
“This is rooted in centuries of colonialism, genocide, white-supremacy, capitalism, and environmental injustice, and this needs to be addressed for meaningful action. Indigenous resistance, leadership, and sovereignty needs to be respected.
“Indigenous peoples, youth, and people from countries that are most impacted by the climate crisis are very underrepresented at COP26, especially compared to the number of representatives from fossil fuel companies,” Gale-Buncel continues.
Are we truly out of time? The hopeful future following COP26
The COP26 spokesperson says this conference is “the world’s last chance to reach agreement on the action needed to avert catastrophic climate change and support those already experiencing its effects.”
Hopkins says, “It’s not the last resort, but it’s one of the last chances to do it without it being so drastic.”
When it comes to climate change, Agrawal notes that the “doom and gloom rhetoric” causes unnecessary despair in young people. “The positive impression I have from the conference is that it is mobilizing decision-makers and wealthy businesses to recognize the urgency and commit action and resources for de-polluting the oceans, atmosphere, and land and putting a stop to the deterioration of the resources we consume and depend on. We can absolutely reverse the trend, and events like COP26 can deliver just that.”
Gale-Buncel agrees with this sentiment, saying that while this rhetoric makes it easy for one to feel overwhelmed about the climate crisis, there is always hope.
“Change always comes from the people, and the ‘world leaders’ must follow and centre people who are most marginalized in our current systems and most impacted by the climate crisis. We can make deep systemic change and build systems of justice, reciprocity, and kindness with each other and the earth,” says Gale-Buncel.
“The big unifier for them all as stated by the United Nations General Assembly on three occasions, in 2017, 2019, and again just a month or so ago, is that the key enabler of all of this is education, public awareness, and understanding. At the heart of that is higher education,” says Hopkins, stressing the role York students have moving forward.