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:
- 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
- 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
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.
“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
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.”
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.