Quick COP26 Background:
COP26 follows a long line of international climate meetings going back as far as 1979 in Geneva. The scientists have been issuing their international climate reports since 1988. (First IPCC was in 1988). The COP meeting in 2015 in Paris was considered a major breakthrough because they pledged to reduce carbon emissions, and to review the pledges every 5 years to further ratchet down CO2 emissions. Didn’t meet in 2020 but the scientists issued their startling report in August 2021 and didn’t mince words. The situation is dire and we’re on a course today with irreversible impacts that will be catastrophic if we don’t take immediate steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The goal is to keep the temperature increase to no greater than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels. The Emissions Gap Report released in December 2020 shows we’re headed to a warming in excess of 3.0 C this century.
Reasons why I attended COP26:
- Following climate change issues since the 1990s (teaching, writing, advocating and civil disobedience)
- In 2006 I worked closely with the American Planning Association and other groups on the Massachusetts v. EPA case in the Supreme Court where the court recognized that the EPA has the authority to regulate CO2 emissions.
- I was arrested with Bill McKibben in front of the White House in August 2011 protesting the Keystone XL pipeline.
- June 2021 … visited the headwaters of the Mississippi River and the frontline of the White Earth Nation’s battle to protect the water and land from Line 3 (Enbridge).
- August 2021 … opportunity to join the League of Women Voters U.S. delegation to COP26 to observe and report.
- September 2021 … learned I’m going to be a grandmother again in the Spring 2022. My new granddaughter will be my age in 2090. What will her world look like?
- So climate change issues are not new to me but I’ve never attended a COP conference.
Flying to a climate conference?! A strong feeling of cognitive dissonance hit me. Aviation’s climate impact accounts for 3.5% of total anthropogenic warming. Passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions, despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft and flight operations over the last 60 years. By 2050, commercial aircraft emissions could triple given the projected growth of passenger air travel and freight. Should I fly to Glasgow? I concluded that someone else would join the delegation in my absence, so I hopped on Amtrak to Chicago, and then a direct flight to London, and finally a bus to Glasgow. (Direct flights are better than connecting flights on the carbon footprint.)
A bit more about cognitive dissonance — aren’t we living in a time when we each should feel some discomfort or unease about our lives and our decisions as they relate to climate change? I don’t want to obscure or absolve the primary role of the fossil fuel industry by focusing on individual actions alone. That’s been the long-time playbook of Shell, Exxon and others. But I also don’t want us to forget that Americans have an over-sized role in pushing humanity onto either a safe path towards the future or onto a dead-end path. The U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history. Every decision we make today will be consequential for our grandchildren at the end of this century. Americans owe a lot to other countries and people (as well as future generations) for our historic and current lavish consumerism that has fueled global warming.
Examples of cognitive dissonance — President Biden has the power to stop Line 3, but has decided to support it. “Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce about 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to about 50 coal power plants, or 38 million vehicles.” Senator Heinrich and Governor Lujan-Grisham have both spoken publicly about the dangers of climate change and their desire to be allies in the struggle to reduce CO2 emissions, while on the other hand they’re both cheerleaders for development of Blue Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. The biggest cheerleaders for blue hydrogen are the fossil fuel industry lobbyists because, just as with plastics, their future depends on not keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe blue hydrogen may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel. The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat. These may not be examples of cognitive dissonance for Biden, Heinrich or Lujan-Grisham …. Maybe examples of political expediency. But they need to be called out for the dangerous path they are leading us towards.
League of Women Voters of the United States:
I went to COP26 as one of 10 delegates from around the country for the LWVUS. Founded 100 years ago – 1920 – focused on voting and political rights for women. The LWVUS was one of the first NGOs recognized by the U.N. as an official observer, which it continues to do today. Over the past year, I’ve volunteered with the LWVUS – Climate Change Task Force. Our Climate Toolkit compiles the best of the best examples of what local governments in the U.S. are doing to address climate change. Several of the delegates have attended previous COPs but many of us were newbies. Our role was simply to observe and report.
I had three personal goals.
#1 – Learn how governments, the private sector, and individuals are negotiating this cognitive dissonance. Are we acknowledging the disconnect and taking the necessary actions? (The answer is not so simple.)
#2 – Learn how to communicate effectively about climate change and the work of COP26 with people who are not yet engaged in the issue. I’m convinced that the world “leaders” will not lead unless they are pushed from a groundswell of youth and others who make demands. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogging. I thought I could do it all and even had a lesson from a tech savvy teen on how to use Instagram. But I failed miserably. I was overwhelmed with negotiating everything around the COP26 venue and meetings.
#3 – Learn and network with others for future advocacy. I succeeded with this goal.
- There were two very different COPs occurring simultaneously. The formal one inside the Scottish Event Center in Glasgow and then the labor, youth, and indigenous groups meeting outside and in different venues throughout the city. Before arriving in Glasgow, I joined the Day of Climate Action in Trafalgar Square in London and was jazzed with the large numbers of people demanding action. I was also looking forward to connecting up with one of the Elders from the White Earth Nation whom I’d met in June 2021. I headed to Glasgow to observe the second week of negotiations, which Greta Thunberg had already called a failure. “Blah! Blah! Blah!”
- I was never able to attend any direct negotiations or even get in the door to any of the formal plenary sessions. Although this was supposed to be the most inclusive and accessible COP ever, others with experience in attending previous COPs said it failed, perhaps due to COVID-19 restrictions and perhaps because of the large number of people attending. Everyone had to take and report a negative COVID-19 test each morning before entering the COP26 venue.
- Learning the layout and the schedule of activities was mindboggling, but I soon realized that COP26 was a marketing extravaganza for countries, institutions and businesses. Each wanted to draw you in to learn more about their achievements. In that respect it felt like any large trade show where companies push out their PR materials, except these were countries not companies pumping up their achievements and big plans to mitigate climate change. It didn’t feel like they were acknowledging how serious the situation really is. (“We’re doomed.”)
- The first day was discouraging because I couldn’t find the events that I wanted to see. I was hoping to connect with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) formal event and press conference. https://www.wecaninternational.org/ Both the LWVUS and the Progressive Democrats of America signed onto WECAN’s Call to Action last month at my request.
- I really couldn’t learn about the progress (or lack of progress) in the COP26 negotiations from being on the ground in Glasgow. There were no briefings or summaries for any of the delegates. Frankly, I learned more each day by reading Interfaith Power & Light’s summary or the daily Glasgow Dispatch from EESI or the COP26 Coalition’s reports.
- Different language and different goals inside and outside. “Net zero” is a good example. Inside the negotiations, there was no debate that the goal is net zero CO2 emissions by mid-century. Net zero = the carbon we put into the atmosphere is less than the amount of carbon we take out of the atmosphere. Allows businesses to continue to pollute, creates carbon markets for trading, requires a level of transparency and accounting that doesn’t exist, and allows Business as Usual to continue.
- I attended very different sessions during the week – including several with indigenous people from around the world; another with data and techy people talking about transparency; a very hopeful one focused on the role of the law, lawyers and judges in fighting climate change; and others. (Read my blog).
- I accidently walked into the tail end of a session where the moderator asked the panelists: “What would you say to your soon-to-be born grandchild about the future?” My head snapped to attention. “It’s going to be a wonderful world, beyond what our imagination can contemplate today. New technology always underperforms in the early years and exponentially grows in later years. Imagination leads to engineering. We need to have an exponential mindset…with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.”
- I wasn’t able to get into the room where Obama was speaking, but sat in another hall and watched him on my laptop. His words came closest to the apology that I was looking for from leaders who have been dragging their feet on the climate issue for decades. He spoke about the urgency of the climate crisis, and then spoke directly to the youth, which I found relevant and very important. “Vote” and get the leaders into positions that know and understand the climate urgency, he said.
- Barclays Bank – street action – while I watched the Indigenous speakers and heard their strong voices, I wondered if anyone inside negotiating was aware of the many counter-narratives calling for no net zero, no false solutions.
- Hydrogen — watched a presentation about hydrogen organized by industry and NGO folks who were clearly promoting the opportunities for investment in the future hydrogen market. The Hydrogen Council recently released two reports — Hydrogen for Net Zero and the Hydrogen Policy Toolbox. The speakers never clarified whether they were talking about Green Hydrogen, Blue Hydrogen, or Gray Hydrogen . . . only referencing “low carbon hydrogen” once which refers to Blue hydrogen (made from fossil fuels). I learned that hydrogen (hopefully of the Green variety) can be a good alternative fuel for shipping and transportation. But an audience member from Africa asked (paraphrased) “The new hydrogen economy might work for Western countries but how can we be sure it will work for Africa?” There was no clear response.
- Walk out! On the final day the constituencies planned to protest from inside COP. BINGO (business and industry NGOs), ENGO (environmental NGOs), Farmers (farmers and agricultural NGOs), IPO (Indigenous Peoples organizations), LGMA (Local Government and Municipal Authorities), RINGO (Research and Independent NGOs), TUNGO (Trade Union NGOs), WGC (Women and Gender Constituency) and YOUNGO (Youth NGOs). The delegates from the LWVUS aligned with the WGC. The youth began by summarizing the facts from the IPCC report and the urgency that the science demands. “Governments would be well-advised not to break their social contract with the people.” “The science has delivered, now it’s your turn!” The TUNGO representative (and many others) talked about how the constituencies were invited to COP26 but excluded from any meaningful discussions. “What happens here is shaped by capitalism and colonialism.” Organized workers want a safe future which requires that “we undo the wrongs of colonialism.” “We need to build power by working together.” RINGO spoke about the deficiencies in the COP26 process. “Most observers have not had access to negotiations.” “This is a treaty process and observers must be part of the process. It hasn’t been this bad since COP in Copenhagen in 2009.” 77% more people @ COP26 than COP25. 232% increase in the number of media organizations over COP25. 90% more parties participating and 60% more NGOs. RINGO says you can’t be inclusive by just inviting more people. Contrary to their advertisement, COP26 was not the most inclusive COP. Nearly every speaker confirmed their disappointment in the lack of opportunities to participate and be heard in the work of COP26. Then we stood, held on to a long red ribbon (the red line we cannot cross) and all followed the Indigenous People out to join the protestors outside.
- One commentator noted that COP is subtly shifting from a rule-making body to an implementation body; but there are limits to the COP’s role. Success will really depend on domestic follow-through.
- COP has a number of constituencies (NGOs), including BINGO (business and industry NGOs), ENGO (environmental NGOs), Farmers (farmers and agricultural NGOs), IPO (Indigenous Peoples organizations), LGMA (Local Government and Municipal Authorities), RINGO (Research and Independent NGOs), TUNGO (Trade Union NGOs), WGC (Women and Gender Constituency) and YOUNGO (Youth NGOs). The delegates from the LWVUS aligned with the WGC. This year they added a new constituency to address issues related to the disabled.
- Unbelievably, after decades of talking about climate change, I believe this was the first international climate agreement that actually mentions coal and fossil fuels!! Previous agreements have referred to reducing greenhouse gas emissions without ever acknowledging the culprit — the oil and gas industry.
- From the Paris COP in 2015, the countries promised to set their own national goals to reduce CO2 emissions (known as NDCs or nationally determined contributions) and then ratchet up their goals every five years. In COP26, 151 countries updated their NDCs — good news — and agreed not to wait 5 years but to reexamine the NDCs at COP27 in Egypt next year. Bad news — the total NDCs (even if everyone fulfilled their goals) doesn’t come close to keeping the planet within the 1.5 C target.
- Agreements about coal (Vietnam, Indonesia, Poland and South Africa); and ending deforestation by 2030; and the methane pledge.
- First time that some of the IPCC provisions — warnings from the scientists — actually included in the agreement.
- Process to talk about loss and damage, but no tangible commitments by the developed countries to actually pay developing countries for their losses and damages suffered as a result of climate change.
- Greater focus on the immediate timeframe (2030) than in previous COPs.
- Greater transparency – and from 2024 onward all countries must report their emissions.
- Article 6 – carbon markets???
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE: Politicians and countries won’t act, can’t act, fast enough to move us off the destructive path we’re on. Business-as-usual, including the strength of the fossil fuel industry and the lack of political imagination will doom our future generations. We cannot let the leaders lead.
People must lead — and force the politicians to catch up with us. How? We must meet people where they’re at and arm them with the information which spurs them to act. We must engage in every venue where we believe we can make a difference. Some of us will engage with the politicians in Congress, in the state Capitals, and city halls pressing leaders to act consistent with the climate reality. Others will engage with students and audiences in different venues. Some will write. Others will protest and engage in civil disobedience. Perhaps the most important communication will occur one-on-one with our neighbors and family. None of these will be sufficient on their own, but each will lead us to the critical threshold where public engagement will tip the scales.
A question to one of the African delegates resonated with me. “Do the people negotiating at COP26 see the planet as a living being or a machine?” She responded “We need to raise our voices louder so they reach the heart, not just the head.”
Americans have a huge responsibility to raise our voices.
[Lora’s focus — LWV, PDA and coalition working to pass the Green Amendment]
Resources: https://loralucero.wordpress.com/2021/11/17/two-climate-gatherings-in-glasgow-scotland/ Lora’s BLOG
https://www.lwv.org/other-issues/environment League of Women Voters US (LWVUS) resources and action on climate change.
https://www.lwv.org/blog/what-i-learned-un-climate-change-conference LWVUS summary of COP26
https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma3_auv_2_cover%20decision.pdf Glasgow Climate Pact
https://tinyurl.com/2p8k5jr7 IPCC issued dire warning in August 2021.
https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2020 IPCC Emissions Gap Report
https://tinyurl.com/44ydvn6u Massachusetts v. EPA (2006)
https://tinyurl.com/2ukafkx8 The U.S. is the biggest carbon polluter in history.
https://tinyurl.com/yc6ammcj LWVUS climate toolkit
http://www.nm-ipl.org/ Interfaith Power & Light
https://cop26coalition.org/ COP26 Coalition (People’s Summit)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69EMd4csZRY Obama’s speech at COP26
https://www.wecaninternational.org/ Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network Call for Action
https://hydrogencouncil.com/en/ The Hydrogen Council