This year’s UN negotiations come at a make-or-break moment. The world’s climate goals are dangerously close to slipping out of reach. Countries around the world are promising bold action in one breath and more fossil fuel extraction in the next. Developing nations, saddled with the worst effects of a problem they had little hand in creating, are losing patience with rich countries that have fuelled the crisis. Already, critics are considering what happens not if countries miss their collective climate goals, but when.

So, as world leaders gather at the end of this month in Scotland to hash out a plan to save the planet, Canada’s National Observer will be there. We’ll dig into how Canada — an early adopter of ambitious UN climate goals, but also one of the worst polluters on Earth — fits into the COP26 negotiations. We’ll take lessons from the rest of the world on how to stop the extractive systems fuelling the climate crisis and protect communities from the emergency already on our doorstep.

Travelling to COP26 is not a decision we take lightly — we’ve thought long and hard about what it means to take a plane to a climate conference. There will be carbon spent flying delegates from all corners of the world to the negotiating table, and many more will be forced to stay home, hampered by pandemic restrictions and travel costs. Like any other international negotiation, COP26 is inherently imperfect. Still, it matters.

Whether or not politicians rise to the monumental task before them, we know the story of climate change needs to be told: what it means for everyday Canadians now and how it can — and will — shape our future. What can we as individuals do to help, and what will require a systems change beyond the power of any one person? COP26 and the many conversations around it are part of that story, and we look forward to bringing the sights and sounds in Glasgow directly to you.

What is COP26, anyway?

COP — or Conference of the Parties — is the United Nations’ annual climate conference, where 197 countries from around the world sit down to negotiate environmental goals for the planet. These high-level talks have happened every year since 1995 (except for last year, when COVID-19 hit). As far as global co-operation goes, they’re a big deal: COP gave us the Paris Agreement — the world’s current blueprint for climate action — in 2015, and the Kyoto Protocol, another landmark climate agreement, in 1997.

This year, the conference — called COP26 because it’s the 26th meeting of the countries signed on to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change — will happen in Glasgow, Scotland, from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

COP26 will have two main parts:

  1. Official negotiations, where country representatives nail down their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, adapt to climate change impacts, help other countries decarbonize and more
  2. Public events in the Green Zone, where youth groups, artists, academics, businesses and people from around the world will host events, exhibitions, cultural performances, workshops and talks focused on climate action

You can read more about the conference, how it works and what’s up for negotiation this year in our COP26 explainer.

This year’s UN negotiations come at a make-or-break moment. Here's why @NatObserver will be on the ground at #COP26. #COP26xCNO

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attending COP21 in Paris, France. Photo by Adam Scotti / PMO

What’s so important about COP26?

With less than a decade left to stave off the more serious impacts of global warming, pretty much every COP is important from here on out, but this year’s conference is where the rubber meets the road.

Here’s why it matters — and why Canadians should care — from some of my colleagues:

“COP26 is especially important because it's the first major check-in since the Paris Agreement was signed. It's widely considered to be the planet's last chance because the window for holding global warming to 1.5 C (the Paris Agreement goal) is rapidly closing.”

John Woodside, Ottawa

“COP26 matters because it is the first time the commitments world leaders made in Paris have been put to the test. For Canadians, that means seeing what Justin Trudeau’s government has done since its newly elected environment minister signed that agreement back in 2015. It also means looking at the global trajectory and deciding what role to play in altering it from here.”

Morgan Sharp, Toronto

“Canadians should care about COP26 because any climate decisions made by international leaders on the global stage, be they robust or ineffective, are actually going to be played out and felt on the ground at home, in people’s lives, health, workplaces, schools, and communities.”

Rochelle Baker, Quadra Island, B.C.

Researchers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center study how changing conditions in the Arctic affect the ocean's chemistry and ecosystems. Canada's North is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Photo by NASA/Kathryn Hansen via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“Over the years, COP has become more than a negotiation event: many activists from all around the world will meet in Glasgow to share knowledge and ideas. Working together will be the best way to address climate issues, especially in the pandemic context.”

Nora Legrand, Paris

“Climate is a global crisis that will only be solved through international collaboration, and COP26 is among the few spaces where these relationships can be formed. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect: International law relies on trust and accountability, both of which are often eschewed by powerful, wealthy countries like Canada and the fossil fuel companies pressuring them to stay the current, emissions-intensive course.

“However, the conference offers a space where our governments’ promises — and inactions — are on display. More importantly, it is a place where the activists, elected officials, and others who are actually making changes on the ground can gather, share ideas, and find the energy and community needed to transform how we live on Earth.”

Marc Fawcett-Atkinson, Vancouver

Scaling up international climate financing is critical to the success of COP26 — and Canada is playing a key role. Photo by Debsuddha Banerjee / Climate Visuals Countdown


Here’s what we’ll be looking out for on the ground in Glasgow:

Rochelle Baker (@RochelleBaker1) is covering how biodiversity collapse and the climate emergency are intertwined, the rights and roles of Indigenous people in climate mitigation and conservation, and the importance of oceans and participation of civil society.

“I’m less excited about what world leaders are up to and what they decide. I’m eager and excited to witness how societal stakeholders such as Indigenous people, women, youth, protesters, environmental groups and scientists are going to hold politicians to account. They are the real force behind climate action and the entities that will push to make it happen on the ground in their countries and communities.”

John Woodside (@Woodsideful) is covering Canada’s role in negotiations, climate finance and the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance.

“Climate financing is important because how we pay for things like climate-resilient infrastructure and clean energy will shape the type of societies we live in. A world where the government pays for climate-resilient roads is very different than a world where the private sector pays for it and then looks to make a profit, for example. How developed countries will raise climate financing for developing countries is another major issue. On the one hand, it will be critical for rich countries to put up the money. On the other, with money comes power, and we're on the cusp of a new era of greenwashed colonialism if we're not careful.

“The Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance I'm also watching out for because this is an international alliance being launched by Costa Rica and Denmark that will try to set clear targets to phase out oil and gas production. There are rumours Quebec will sign onto it independent of Canada — so I'm watching to see if that happens — but even if that doesn't happen, Canadians should take note that the world is rapidly making plans to get off a product that the federal government is spending billions of our dollars to help get to market. The transition off fossil fuels is going to happen much faster than many Canadians probably realize, and that has gigantic implications for the country moving forward.”

Fort McMurray, Alta. Photo by Kris Krüg / Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Marc Fawcett-Atkinson (@FawcettAtkinson) is covering plastics and the way climate change shapes our food systems.

“Despite contributing roughly a third of global emissions, food doesn’t feature prominently in the planned talks and is most likely to appear on discussions about carbon markets and nature-based solutions. Plastics are also not on the agenda. This is particularly shocking in light of a recent report that found them to contribute as many or more emissions as coal in the U.S., on top of choking oceans and leaching toxic chemicals into the environment.”

Morgan Sharp (@5thEstate) is covering the young movement pushing for a climate-safe future.

“I will be reporting on youth and young people, and the roles they are playing in and around the conference. The youth climate strike movement had such momentum when COVID-19 hit, and those left with the most time to deal with the problems of climate change are most motivated to do something about it. I’m excited to hear about their ideas for what is possible still.”

Nora Legrand is providing audio-visual coverage of COP26, including photos, short vlogs and video footage of the conference’s key moments.

“During COP26, I will be interviewing delegates in both French and English... I'm very excited to connect with climate change activists from different countries and to have the opportunity to interview a couple of celebrities there.”

You can stay posted on what we’re up to at COP26 by following @NatObserver on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Some of my colleagues and I will also be tweeting from the conference with the hashtag #COP26xCNO.

Editor's Note: Also on the ground at COP26 with Canada's National Observer's team will be Linda Solomon Wood, Adrienne Tanner, Janel Johnson, Jenny Uechi and Karen Mahon. Suzanne Dhaliwal will be co-ordinating social media.

Keep reading

The above opinion piece repeatedly states the obvious: that COP26 is extremely important for the planet, for Canada and for National Observer subscribers, donors, readers and commentators.

In my opinion, though, making such generalizations does nothing to justify forming an 11-person NO junket to travel overseas by air to an international conference during the twin crises of climate change and worldwide pandemic conditions that continue to spread across borders primarily through air travel and mutating viral variants.

What really rankles this subscriber is that there are completely acceptable, affordable and respectable alternatives to in-person conference reportage by staff. That seemingly deliberate omission is wildly exacerbated by the fact that the NO has not posted any easily searchable information anywhere on its website or in editorials on how it plans to remediate or mitigate the emissions by staff or potential exposure to COVID-19. The NO article and its otherwise well-designed and highly informative web pages dedicated exclusively to COP26, barely admit to the problem and incongruently justifies carrying on because of the ‘stated importance’ of COP26, which misses the point.

I also checked the site for emissions remediation information — or even just a philosophical statement or simple acknowledgement of its high emissions and COVID risk behaviour by at least two individuals to attend COP and the pre-COP TED talks. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Why is it so difficult for the NO and many other like-minded organizations to take a simple principled stand to choose not to fly in high-emission jet planes, travelling in confined quarters for nearly 20 hours for every return trip and to attend a conference where COVID is sure to be present? Why are perfectly reasonable communication alternatives being so cavalierly dismissed? Why is Greta a font of wisdom by comparison, choosing to stay away?

Not publishing a better rationale to prove the veracity of their decision to attend, let alone even a scrap of a remediation or mitigation plan, can be called glaringly hypocritical and self-indulgent jet setting behaviour by subscribers, donors and the observant public. If that’s harsh, tough shit. Someone has to call environmentalists on this contradiction before ideologues like Jason Kenney seize the opportunity and boast that half the fuel burned on the enviro’s return flight originates from the tar sands (it does!), while the other half comes from fuel refined by human rights violators like Shell, not to mention BP or Total (it does!). Is this shameful we’re-going-who-cares-keep-quiet behaviour being practiced during two world-scale crises by all environmental and progressive independent media organizations in attendance?

The NO could have pooled its significant subscriber and donor resources with Stand and any number of other climate fighting outfits to hire two or three dozen local Scottish or UK media folks to report on COP and TED and send several exclusive reports a day via instantaneous video, website FTP site and email links. The docs could be edited at the Canadian office resulting in detailed, high quality text and graphic postings by the same 11 staff members currently sent on an expensive, risky excursion.

Electronic communication is a two-way street. Detailed, high quality independent video, documentaries and written submissions could have also been forwarded digitally to organizers of the duo conferences and synthesized into the final TED and COP26 reports with digital links. Mentioning that COP organizers decided not to replace in-person events with digital reportage does not mean that electronic communications are not a completely acceptable alternative. Basing international jet flight for overseas attendees on COP’s decision to carry on with in-person conferences is specious at best because it passes the responsibility and consequences of the decision to attend to third parties.

Sorry for the length of this three part comment, but I don’t think NO subscribers, donors and readers will strenuously object to a rational dissent about a highly questionable, morally-challenged decision made by the managers / editors in their name and on their dime.

More to come.

Regarding the emissions profile of jet flight, data from credible online sources pin emissions for jet travel between 115 - 285 grams CO2 per passenger kilometre. Averaged at 200 g/p/km, the calculation works out to 37.4 tonnes (37,400 kilograms) of CO2 emitted for 8,500 km (X2) direct return flights to Glasgow by 11 National Observer staff travelling economy class. CO2 is not the only GHG emitted. Oxidized nitrogen, soot and water vapour are also significant, but are not included in the above calculation.

We can assume these CO2 numbers are the minimums. The actual emissions, of course, are higher if direct flights to London’s Heathrow (30 minutes longer in the air) with regional fights to Scotland are appended. Will staff member’s families also come along, increasing the size of the junket? Are staff also taking personal vacations in the UK in addition to conference attendance? Will they be using public transport exclusively?

Jet flight contributes between 3% and 5% to cumulative global emissions. That fact can be misused, like the talking point propaganda issued ad nauseam by oil-affiliated commentators that Canada emits a scant 2% of world GHGs. While the overall emissions are lower than other sectors, only 3% of people on Earth fly on a regular basis. Similarly, Canada’s population is just 0.05% of the world’s population. Flyers and Canadians are the pigs of the planet, and we / they need to come to terms with that.

What is the National Observer going to do about their 37.4-tonne CO2 contribution to climate heating from this one event? Was this decision made by staff who built up a lifetime of entitled jet setting travel already, part of the three percent elite?

The UK is now a COVID 19 hotspot … again.

“Infections are surging in Britain now, topping 50,000 a day this week. The rolling seven-day average has increased 18 per cent. On Friday the ONS estimated that one in 55 people in England has been infected with the virus, the highest rate of infection since last January, when the pandemic peaked. Britain is recording more daily cases than France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined.” Reported on October 22nd:

Not only does the UK have the worst COVID infection rate in the EU, but the dominant and deadly Delta variant is now breaking through into the fully vaccinated population, in part due to the mismanagement of the UK government and the cavalier attitude of a significant contingent of Brits who believe the pandemic is a socialist hoax for world domination, or some other equally ludicrous conspiracy.

Even the top notch mRNA vaccines start wearing off after five or six months. The BC government announced just today that the entire population will be offered booster shots early in the New Year. Triple-vaxxed people will be the norm.

Further, 6% of new Delta infections is a new mutation whose effects on human health are not known. This could mean that even double-vaxxed NO staff are putting themselves, their families, colleagues and the public at risk as they return from the UK on a crowded plane as asymptomatic COVID carriers.
What does the NO intend to do about that?

What is the total cost of airfares, hotels and expenses the entire contingent of NO staff are imposing on its subscribers, donors and taxpayers (through expense claims) who are largely paying for this trip and putting Canadians at risk of COVID Delta X upon their return?

As a subscriber I find all of this supremely troubling and the lack of response offensive because my immune compromised partner and I continue into our second year to practice COVID protocols, like avoiding jet flight, crowded places and even having friends over, have been double and triple-vaxxed respectively, and live on pensions while watching my NO subscription funds go in directions I fundamentally disagree with.

COP26 talks will not collapse because NO staff could have taken to heart some deep principles and decided to stay away as the kindest and most effective acts of saving the planet and preserving public health. Everything that gets reported can be done remotely and with the utmost professionalism, creativity and technical results.

Why shouldn’t this subscriber put his money on the line and cancel? Why wouldn’t other subscribers and donors find the advent of jet setting climate fighters unethical in light of not just the world-scale crises, but also the wide availability of viable proxy options to crowded conferences, express their displeasure and consider putting their subscription on the line too? If NO editors and managers find the criticism from subscribers about their behaviour being, for all intents and purposes, a subsidy for their rather large sense of entitlement hard to take, then they really need to respond with a far more complete and less dismissive rationale.

The National Observer needs people like me. I don’t need the NO. There are many other great sources of independent media and participatory discourse out there; it’s a matter of choosing the ones that have more mature principles governing their behaviour during a time of crises when we are all expected to be taking personal and corporate responsibility seriously.

For starters.
Maybe a little too much of the scent of the fox ... rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi and all? Thinking they might be The One to make the point, ask the question, that'll make one of 'em See the Light at best ...
And O God for being up in the clouds again ! ... ???

Though I truly would love to see Trudeau dragged to honesty, explaining why, if Canada's done so well, their emissions keep climbing faster than anyone elses, and how it's come to pass that a self-styled Climate Leader has to explain why Canada is a member of the unholy triumvirate of the world's worst three carbon emitters. Or why he gave what was it? $18 bn? to carbon extraction industries.

Because yes, there are alternatives. All kinds of alternatives.

Please when there's a carbon accounting ... don't rely on trading or setoffs. Excess spending means less till the excess debt is retired.
So just out of G20, Trudeau's basking in "being a leader" by being and example -- imposing the highest carbon tax rates in the world. The gushing reporters should have been briefed head of time. Or maybe they were.
There have been some limitations imposed: mainly on insurance and finance for international coal.
Apparently The They are willing to consider cutting back come mid-century. It was radio, I couldn't replay it, and it's possible I mis-heard.
But there was certainly nothing in it that would touch Canada.
I'll just bet everyone played Reverse Chicken: everyone staring everyone else down, no one willing to make the initial proposal ... and ultimately, no one willing to offer to commit to anything.
Certainly I heard nothing that would begin to touch Canada.