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Delegates from more than 200 nations are heading into meetings in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday knowing the reductions made in gas emissions will not allow the world to get close to the primary target of curtailing devastating climate change caused by human-induced global heating. The goal at the UN-sponsored COP26 meetings has been to limit global warming to well below 2 C, preferably 1.5 C, compared to pre-industrial levels. The global mean temperature in 2020 is already 1.27 C above the average temperature of the late 19th century.
But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the majority of the carbon emission reduction pledges for 2030 that 184 countries made under the Paris Agreement aren’t nearly enough to keep global warming well below 2 C.
The impact of the climate crisis is being felt widely: more frequent and intense forest fires, floods and droughts, rising sea levels, melting of glaciers, freshwater shortages, the loss of biodiversity, deteriorating quality of life, and lower life expectancy.
A weak process continues to undermine the UN effort. The problem is that the reduction targets set by countries are voluntary, and most countries — including Canada — are not meeting them. And the UN has no mechanism to police them.
If not slowed dramatically, global heating will become irreversible.
This year, organizers say there will be 30,000 participants, including heads of state, negotiators, climate experts, business representatives, and citizens. Climate activists object to the observer status given to multinational corporations because they attempt to block progress at UN meetings.
It’s unlikely there will be any remarkable achievements in Glasgow. U.S. special envoy for climate John Kerry believes the talks will fall short of their targets.
The exact number is unclear, but many world leaders of major emitters are declining to attend. The Guardian reported that a group of major COP26 sponsors wrote to organizers condemning the event as “mismanaged” and “very last-minute,” blaming “very inexperienced” civil servants for the problems.
Particular problems face countries from the Global South. Participants from countries listed as high-risk for COV19 have to quarantine ahead of the meeting for five days for those fully vaccinated and 10 days for those unvaccinated. If these rules stay in place, it will mean expenses poor countries can’t afford. If these countries aren’t able to attend, they will not be able to vote on key issues.
Opinion: Heading into #COP26, delegates know the reductions made in GHG will not allow the world to get close to preventing the devastating changes caused by human-induced global heating, writes Nick Fillmore. #ClimateChange #TogetherForOurPlanet
Global South groups have reason to doubt Global North nations. Developing countries were to receive at least US$100 billion in financial assistance from public and private sources this year — and in future years — to help them fight climate warming. But the fund is not close to meeting its target. The promise was a key part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and will likely be a hot topic in Glasgow.
Canada is far from being the worst, but it, too, is failing to meet its goals. The internationally funded Climate Action Tracker says Canada’s revised climate plan and additional measures announced in the 2021 federal budget are insufficient to meet the country’s target. Ranked on a per capita basis, Canada is the fifth-worst polluter in the world.
Climate activists criticize Ottawa for supporting the oil industry. The government’s Export Development Canada provided financing and insurance that helped facilitate $62 billion in business for Canada’s oil and gas companies from 2015 to 2020.
The greatest setback for climate campaigning began in the 1970s when giant oil companies and the multibillionaire Koch brothers and others provided millions of dollars to support huge right-wing organizations that claimed climate change was not real. Groups such as the American Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute reached into Canada. This was a huge setback that still hasn’t been totally overcome.
Meanwhile, the Amazon jungle has long been leaned on as a reliable carbon sink. But there was a reversal in 2019, and the Amazon now produces more emissions than it soaks in. This is a serious blow for the world’s climate. Trees are being planted with the hope of turning this around, but this is a long-term project.
The big target of campaigners is to reduce coal and oil production. Both are at unacceptable levels. Coal is the worst for the environment. Global coal production in 2019 is estimated at 7.9 billion tonnes, up 116 million tonnes from 2018. Canada is the world's fourth-largest exporter of metallurgical coal after Australia, the United States, and Russia.
World oil production reached an all-time high in 2019, about 95 million barrels. Last year, there was a slight reduction because of COVID-19. The world will need oil indefinitely, but critics want to see production reductions. And companies are drilling everywhere possible around the world.
In the business world, corporations are lagging in the campaign to reduce gas emissions. As of April, just over 20 per cent of the world’s companies had set target dates to drop their carbon emissions to zero, and the Boston Consulting Group reports that most companies are misreporting their CO2 emissions. For short-sighted corporations, it seems that building their business and making a profit are more important to them than global heating.
Families and individuals, particularly in North America, are also feeding the climate monster. Most people are not buying fuel-efficient vehicles. In the U.S., pickup trucks accounted for five of the industry’s 10 bestselling vehicles in 2020.
A desperate hunt is on for new solutions beyond wind and solar power, which were both found unreliable during a recent energy crisis in Germany.
Carbon capture and storage to retake gases in the air is a possibility, but there are obstacles. The largest project in the world is the Orca plant in Iceland. But it cost between US$10 million to $15 million to build, and at full capacity, can take in the emissions equivalent to the exhaust of 870 cars daily.
Looking ahead, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Climate Change Resilience Index says global heating could directly cost the world economy US$7.9 trillion a year by 2050.
Overall, the COP26 meetings face several problems. Most distressing for those attending — and the world — is that countries have failed miserably to meet their reduction targets and keep temperature increases to 1.5 C.
Moreover, considering the many problems faced by the meetings — including dissatisfaction by both South and rich countries — a lot of angry delegates will be there. There could be a serious crisis of one kind or another.
The entire UN COP process as it now exists could be changed. Efforts to combat global warming will no doubt continue. The focus may shift to the major polluting countries, which includes Canada.
Nick Fillmore is a former CBC investigative journalist and a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He is officially retired, but has been following climate change developments for the past 15 years.