COP26: Was it Worth it?

Posted: December 16, 2021

The 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded in Glasgow, Scotland. This high-level event brought together heads of state and government, ministers, and representatives of 197 different states and regions to discuss, negotiate and agree on a concrete plan for implementing decisions and actions to address climate change. Still, it was difficult to reach definitive solutions that everyone was on board with.

While the goal of recent times was to prevent the world temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius (the “point of no return”), climate researchers claim that an increase of 2.5 degrees Celsius is a much more reasonable goal. Now, the possibility of the goal is within reach but, as COP President Alok Sharma said, “its pulse is weak.” The final text of the bill focused instead on accelerating action for climate commitments and aims to revisit and strengthen climate targets by the end of 2022 to determine whether or not the goalposts need to be shifted once more.

Another concern expressed at the conference involves the supposed underreporting of emissions. The Washington Post conducted an investigation and determined there was a massive gap between the emissions that countries report vs what they actually release. The short side of the estimate is around 8.5 billion tons of greenhouse gas. To put that into perspective, the United States emitted about 6.5 billion tons in 2019. While nefarious intentions were never outright claimed to be the reason, the gap was attributed to lowering the use of fossil fuels and increasing the use of natural resources like forests and peat bogs. As it stands, wood pellets are considered an environmentally friendly energy source so it is no surprise that country’s exploited this loophole.

In addition to highlighting the largest polluting industries, there was an emphasis on how arable land was used and what foods are consumed. Even the menus at the conference highlighted the carbon emissions that were associated with producing the food. Some accounts of the conference reported that this did not deter the world’s leaders from consuming meat and dairy-based dishes when they could have opted for vegetarian alternatives. Regardless, a full half-day was dedicated to educating and discussing leaders on land use and resulted in 141 countries committing to conserve and restore their forests by 2030 making use of the $20 billion of both public and private investment announced.

An example of one of the menus

While all of these topics effectively educated officials, there is still a lack of definitive action and money to support these projects. Many environmentalists have accused the conference of being inconclusive and lacking enough actionable content. Whether or not you stand with, against, or between environmentalists, oil and gas, farmers, or consumers, it is incredibly disappointing to see such a massive collection of people (powerful ones too) and see them walking away patting themselves on the back. The world is demanding serious action, and it seems like these leaders are pushing the problem into someone else’s jurisdiction or timeline. At the end of the day, the oil and gas industry is one of the biggest targets for taking environmental action. While this conference may not have increased the heat the industry is catching, it is certainly inevitable.

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