Mission impossible?

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Over the last 2 weeks leaders from 120 countries spent 14 days negotiating. Their mission: get the world to climate safety fast.

But can they?

This is the story of COP26 in pictures and videos over 4 chapters. We start with world leaders, focus on Canadians, then move to a talk we title 'Sins of emissions'. We end with 'the new F-word.'

With 25,000 people at the event–– talking, negotiating, telling stories, promoting solutions––COP cannot be fully captured. Nonetheless, we start here.

World Leaders

As world leaders discussed destruction and loss, action and hope, behind doors, old promises were being broken and new promises made. After they had left Glasgow, teams of bureaucrats remained to haggle over the technicalities and changes and how to meet the targets outlined in the Paris agreement of 2015.

"We can phase out the use of cars with hydrocarbon internal combustion engines – by 2035 – we can do that and we in the U.K. are ending new sales by 2030," said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"If we fail they will not forgive us. They will know that Glasgow was the historic turning point when history failed to turn. They will judge us with bitterness and with a resentment that eclipses any of the climate activists of today, and they will be right."

Even Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who famously brought a lump of coal to Parliament in 2017 to extoll its virtues, spoke about moving off fossil fuels to clean energy.

"Australia is investing over $20 billion over the next decade to drive the transition, leveraging private sector investment to reach $80 billion in total," he said, noting that Australia has the highest rates of rooftop solar power in the world.

Some dismiss all of this as 'green PR.' Others find it hopeful.

It is Barbados President Mia Mottley who delivers what may very well be the most powerful and important speech of COP26.

"We do not want that dreaded death sentence, and we have come here today to say, 'Try harder. Try harder.'

"For those who have eyes to see, for those who have ears to listen and for those who have a heart to feel — 1.5 (degrees) is what we need to survive."

Then you may very well feel that you are meeting good and well-intentioned people, but you're not sure it is these people who can stop the race to destruction.

Photo by Nora Legrand of Obama's speech at COP26

Greta Thunberg at protests outside COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Photo of Greta Thunberg by Nora Legrand at COP26

Idris Elba and Sabrina Dhowre Elba arrive for the Sustainable Agriculture event at COP26 on Nov. 6 at the SEC, Glasgow. Photo by Karwai Tang / U.K. Government

Indigenous women at Nov. 6 climate demonstration in Glasgow. Photos by Nora Legrand / Canada's National Observer

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at UN climate summit on Nov. 1. Photo from COP26 Flickr.

"For many developing countries climate change is a very big crisis looming before them, one that threatens their very existence," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, making a bold promise to triple renewable energy use in his country by 2030 and reach net zero by 2070.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at UN climate summit on Nov. 1, 2021. Photo from COP26 Flickr

Leona Humchitt, climate action coordinator for the Heiltsuk First Nation from the coast of B.C, Canada, at COP26 with Indigenous Clean Energy. "Our worldviews and our values around sustainability and conservation is a demonstration to the rest of the world on how we should conduct ourselves and ensure there's a delicate balance between preserving our natural environment and moving toward a greener economy." Photo by Rochelle Baker
Chapter 1

The Canadians

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to put a hard cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, and pledged to slash methane emissions from Canada's oil and gas industry by 75 per cent by 2030.

"We are in a climate crisis. We need to urgently reduce emissions in every sector of the economy, everywhere in the world," Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said during the announcement on Nov. 4. "Canada's signature is significant. We are one of the world's largest energy producers."

Environment and Climate Minister Steven Guilbeault noted the importance of governments coming together with civil society and business to solve the climate crisis. Governments alone can't afford to solve the climate crisis alone, he told Canada's National Observer, during a break in the last day of the negotiations–– and he expected to be up all night negotiating. He stressed the importance of private capital in financing the shift to a safe climate.

During the second week of the talks, Canada vowed to set aside 80 per cent of the $5.3 billion it’s pledged to climate investments in the next five years for projects that promote gender equality and former environment and climate minister Catherine McKenna, brought a new project focused on women to COP.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault with Maria Athena Ronquillo-Ballesteros, a former colleague from Greenpeace on Nov 4. Photo by Jenny Uechi / Canada's National Observer

Former environment minister Catherine McKenna (at right) with Climate Investment Funds CEO Mafalda Duarte and Antha N. Willliams, head of the environment program at Bloomberg Philanthropies. Photo from Catherine McKenna's Twitter feed

Dr. Courtney Howard and Minister Steven Guilbeault

Dr. Courtney Howard, director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, spoke with Minister of Environment and Climate Steven Guilbeault about reducing asthma and air pollution to save lives. Photo from Courtney Howard on Twitter

Chapter 2

Sins of emissions

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Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore presents a terrifying set of slides. In the dark, he waves his arms, proclaiming, orating like a holy roller preacher about 'rain-bombs,' mega wildfires, superstorms, soaring (and to his telling, sinful) emissions. The fragility of the earth's precious atmosphere.

I hear the woman next to me dismiss much of Gore's talk as 'climate porn' and say she wished he had focused more on solving the problem of how are we going to get there?

To say Gore's presentation was troubling would be an understatement.

He blasted fossil fuel companies for expanding oil extraction as the planet burns. 'It's just plain wrong!' he preached.

Chapter 3

The most important F-word

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With at least 503 fossil fuel lobbyists, affiliated with some of the world's biggest polluting oil and gas giants, COP26 was teeming with corporate influence, according to Global Witness. But for perspective, there were 25,000 people at COP.

Over 100 fossil fuel companies were represented but their CEOs were banned for the first time from attending.On the other hand, there are 10,000 or so young people on the street, led by Greta Thunberg, demanding climate action now. And there's a surge in demands for oil and gas to be named as a climate culprit in the treaty itself, creating a serious challenge for those oil industry lobbyists.

Canada's Tzeporah Berman embodied the enormous challenge to the oil industry at COP. Her project, the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, made a big splash. With 17 cities and sub-national governments including Los Angeles, Barcelona and Sydney, and nearly 133,000 individuals signed onto the treaty, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus and former Irish president Mary Robinson, the treaty has captured the imagination of climate power players looking for effective ways to rapidly stop new development of fossil fuel projects.

Speaking at The New York Times Climate Hub, Berman said, despite technological breakthroughs in renewable energy, the world has remained slow to transition from fossil fuels.

She said she sees many signs that the transition away from fossil fuels is well underway.

“Social change isn’t linear. It happens at tipping point moments, and I think we’re seeing that…. We’re seeing more climate policies being introduced in the last two years than in the last 20 years. And we’re seeing this at COP,” she said. “We’re starting to have a conversation around fossil fuels…. Ten COPs in, it’s been an uphill climb just to talk about how we need to constrain fossil fuel production and I think that’s starting to happen. We’re seeing trillions of dollars in divestment."

"You can actually make more money now when you divest from fossil fuels.”

After a successful TED talk at Countdown to COP, Berman's ideas are reaching more people and gaining more traction.

Meanwhile, Bill McKibben warned that governments and industry are moving too slowly. Specifically he said, the oft-mentioned goal of achieving 'net zero' by 2050 is dangerously distant.

"Here’s the most important F-word — fast. Speed is the only thing that matters at this point," he said.

"Every time someone says 2050, ask yourselves, how many CEOs between now and 2050? How many prime ministers…? Too many for that number to make any difference at all. Even 2030 is quite a ways off. What are you doing for us right now?"

Below: Josie Kaingang, Helena Gualinga, Samela Sateré-Mawé and Fany Kuiro from the Amazon region present a necklace and bracelet to former Irish president Mary Robinson after sharing their concerns about environmental conservation. COP26 in Glasgow.

Photo by Jenny Uechi