OTTAWA—“In a way, Boris Johnson was the perfect host for COP26. The British prime minister specializes in groundless optimism and empty pledges. The Glasgow climate summit produced plenty of both.”
What an indictment of the fecklessness of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP26), delivered by the Financial Times, which ended in a watered-down deal that will do very little to reverse, or even minimize, the impact of climate change. If this is leadership, it’s no wonder we get nothing done. Usually that kind of inaction is reserved for public servants, who fail to understand that doing nothing can be just as—or more—damaging than acting.
COP26 ended in Glasgow on Nov. 13 with a gossamer deal that fell short of accomplishing much. About 110 countries signed onto the Global Methane Pledge to “agree to take voluntary actions to contribute to a collective effort to reduce global methane emissions at least 30 per cent from 2020 levels by 2030, which could eliminate over 0.2 C warming by 2050.” Methane is one-third of global emissions.
The meat of this massive disappointment in global leadership was nestled in the intention to phase out coal, which changed to “phase down” from “phase out” in the resulting pledge due to India and China’s objections (their economies still rely heavily on coal), however the United States didn’t sign onto it either.
Simultaneously, another group of 141 countries signed onto an anti-deforestation pledge that commits them “to working collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 while delivering sustainable development and promoting an inclusive rural transformation.” In the wake of Fairy Creek and Wet’suwet’en protests, Canada had the caucasity to sign onto this pledge, while using the RCMP to terrorize Indigenous land defenders who are doing the heavy lifting on climate. And all they get for it are arrest records and police violence.
This country is two-faced.
COP26 was supposed to be the last chance to “keep 1.5 alive,” referring to the target of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit the warming of the planet to 1.5 C (we’re already at 1.1 C, so that looks like an auspicious outcome for failure). As Ed Miliband, Britain’s shadow business and energy secretary (this amalgamation of business and energy is the reason we can’t reverse climate change), stated on Sky News, “After Glasgow, keeping 1.5 degrees alive is frankly in intensive care.” Methane reduction, protecting forestry, and phasing out coal were supposed to be the quickest and most painless way to get there. Guess not.
One of the greatest regional and global inequities is that of the effects of the climate emergency. Currently in British Columbia, torrential rainstorms have washed away whole towns (shoutout to Merritt, population zero), roads, and topography, even shutting down the Trans Mountain pipeline extension, in a textbook example of irony.
However, the cost of the climate crisis is being borne mostly by small islands, as breakout speaker, Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, so eloquently vocalized. In her speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September, she connected COVID, adaptation, fiscal policy, digital justice, feminism, and racism and how they are linked to the climate emergency: “How many times will we stand idly by and see women of colour and men of colour and women period be attacked by the leadership of international organizations disproportionately?”
Small island developing nations (SIDS) have been at the forefront of battling climate change since the 1980s. Mottley has said that a 2 C rise in global temperatures will result in the elimination of island states. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, though SIDS are “some of the least contributors to the climate crisis, the SIDS are particularly vulnerable to its impacts and face unique challenges due to their size, location and exposure to natural hazards. The worsening impacts of climate change could result in nation islands becoming uninhabitable.”
The climate emergency is an economic and security threat that requires immediate and decisive systemic and structural action; it is existential. But that change takes a decisive government that doesn’t just close their eyes and rely on “the market” solution in the form of a carbon tax, but builds the infrastructure, subsidizes climate-reversing policies, repeals policies that subsidize oil and gas, creates programs and assistance to shift the labour market to climate jobs, and communicates those changes effectively, in a way that is underpinned by principles and practices of intersectionality.
Perhaps then, these delegations wouldn’t have been so white. Canada’s was whiter than the snow that blankets us for a quarter of the year. As The Narwhal reported, “Indigenous land defender Ita Mendoza, from the state of Oaxaca in Mexico, told The Guardian that COP is ‘a big business, a continuation of colonialism.’” As Daily Planet host, Ziya Tong, tweeted:
The reason #COP26 is failing to produce significant outcomes to reach 1.5 is because none of the leaders are willing to address large-scale system change. All of them are trying to do it while maintaining the current system, which is the primary cause of the climate disaster.
— Earthling (@ziyatong) November 13, 2021
Someone’s been reading Audre Lorde.
We, as a country, are not equipped to make the required changes because we have neither the right personnel making decisions and allocating resources with vision, nor the political will from “leadership” whose cowardice is leading us to an early demise. It’s exactly why we need people like Mia Mottley to lead this change, not Elizabeth May.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.