Implementation and inequality are focuses at COP27 

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Daily affirmation: Our world leaders will take climate change seriously. Lee Lim

Canada called out for climate inequity in the first week

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres this week, warning world leaders about the dangers of a changing climate. 

From flooding in Pakistan to heat waves in Europe, climate change has been on many minds in 2022. This week, world leaders, scientists, and activists met to discuss these impacts. The 27th annual Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP27, started November 7. Despite not yet being finished, there have already been several bombshell announcements about climate change at the Coca-Cola sponsored conference.

Starting one week before the conference, the UN’s environmental programme released a report stating there is now “no credible pathway” to keep global warming below 1.5 C, a target that countries have committed to staying below since the 2015 Paris Agreements. The calling for action the report states: “Only an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid an accelerating climate disaster.” 

The crossing of a critical threshold was echoed by Guterres in his opening remarks. 

“In just days, our planet’s population will cross a new threshold,” said Guterres. “The eight billionth member of our human family will be born. This milestone puts into perspective what this climate conference is all about. How will we answer when ‘Baby 8 Billion’ is old enough to ask: ‘What did you do for our world – and for our planet – when you had the chance?’” 

The same report that claimed we are now likely to cross 1.5 C of warming points out how inadequate climate policy, particularly in high-income countries which have released a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, is responsible. It is this disproportionate effect on the climate that has led to the discussion of climate reparations, the idea that high-income countries will give support to low-income countries suffering from climate change.

Climate reparations have become one of the dominant themes of the conference’s first week. This differs significantly from COP26, where climate reparations never made it onto the formal agenda for the talks. The change in focus is largely due to the talks being held in Egypt this year, rather than Glasgow in the year previous, and a diplomatic push by many African countries to include reparations in the discussions. However, before the summit, diplomats have come to an agreement to not debate blame while still considering the damage and keeping climate reparations on the bargaining table.  

Canada’s Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault told CBC: “It can’t be about liability. Developed nations cannot sign onto something that would make the Canadian public and the European public and the American public liable for lord knows how many hundreds of billions of dollars of damages.” 

On the contrary, the United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary Mr. Simon Stiell vowed in his opening speech: “We will be holding people to account.”  

Worldwide, the commitments of countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions falls far short, and the UN realistically has little if any enforcement power. Reflecting on COP26 last year in a press release, the UN reported “NDCs [Nationally Determined Contributions] submitted this year take only 0.5 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent, less than one per cent, off projected global emissions in 2030.” 

This comment is in the context of Canada currently being in the top 10 emitters of greenhouse gases when measured per capita, according to the World Bank in 2019. But Canada isn’t escaping notice on the world stage. A coalition of Indigenous groups known as Keepers of the Water will be bringing their concerns to COP27 about Alberta’s plan to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. Though, their single representative who is a part of the Indigenous Climate Action delegation may be overshadowed by the eight representatives of the five largest oil-sand companies who get their own place in the Government of Canada’s official pavilion and will be hosting their own panel.

As reported by Global Witness, an environmental NGO, there are twice as many fossil fuel lobbyists at COP27 as there are delegates from the UN Constituency for Indigenous Peoples. The same report states that there are over 100 more fossil fuel lobbyists than at the previous COP26.  

Despite the global stage, humble Saskatchewan has some of our own headed to COP27. Firstly, a Northern Saskatchewan high school student, Sean Bernard from Waterhen Lake First Nation, is headed to Egypt as a youth delegate. He is a grade 12 student who will be making the trip with his high school teacher. He will be one of only five youth delegates who get to participate in the major negotiations. 

 Researchers in Saskatchewan are also attending the conference. I reached out to the Monitoring and Evaluating Climate Communication and Education Project (MECCE), whose project manager, Nicola Chopin, is based at the University of Saskatchewan and is a representative at COP27. Kristen Hargis, a research associate with MECCE, described MECCE as “an international partnership focused on increasing the quantity and quality of ACE [Action for Climate Empowerment] globally.”

ACE is a standard that MECCE uses to measure “six elements: education, public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation.” MECCE sees the “critical importance of Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) in enabling the social and political will needed to achieve just transitions to post-carbon societies.” 

Just ahead of COP27, MECCE has released their interactive data platform which tracks a country’s progress on ACE. Similar to our GHG emissions, Canada’s score isn’t looking so great. One of MECCE’s nine indicators is “Adult willingness to participate in climate action,” on which Canada scores a 1 out of 5. This is in contrast to our scores on several education and awareness indicators being above a 3 out of 5. While the Canadian populous seems to be aware of climate change, as a whole we apparently share Guilbault’s opinion about not accepting liability. 

Despite all the doom and gloom, many at the conference are there because they believe that implementing the necessary changes can still make a better life for everyone. As stated at the opening remarks, Mr. Simone Stiell said “Our minds have moved from researching to understanding, and then to agreeing on a plan. Now we know what must be done […] by everybody, everywhere, every single day, doing everything we possibly can. Let’s get to work.” 

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