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Thursday, April 18, 2024

COP26 agreements alone will not sufficiently curb greenhouse gas emissions

We need to hold our leaders accountable in order to address the climate crisis

Between Oct. 31 to Nov. 13, world leaders, diplomats and environmental activists convened at the Glasgow Climate Change Conference to discuss the climate crisis and collaborate on global solutions. With negotiations extending an extra day for the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), representatives of 197 countries participating in the climate summit ultimately agreed on new global expectations to combat climate change: the Glasgow Climate Pact.

The agreement outlines the roles and responsibilities of governments in preventing and mitigating climate change and includes some notable achievements in global consensus. Continuing the progress of the Paris Climate Accords in 2015, where leaders agreed that global warming levels should be kept under an additional 1.5 degrees, the Glasgow Climate Pact finally acknowledges that the burning of coal and fossil fuels is the main cause of climate change. The pact also includes new rules for trading carbon credits across borders, requests for yearly reports from countries on their progress and proposals for an accelerated timeline for discussing the reduction of emissions. 

Yet despite these notable achievements, there are equally noticeable failures within the agreement. For example, the conference delegates agreed to water down the language by changing “phasing out” to “phasing down” when describing changes to coal power usage in order to placate particular leaders. This highlights not only the lack of unity between world leaders, but also the bizarre notion that the future of our climate can be altered by changing a single word. 

The pact was missing key developments on climate finance, particularly a plan for the redistribution of funds from the wealthier countries responsible for the majority greenhouse gas emissions to the developing countries where climate impacts are being felt the most. The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that developing countries currently need $70 billion a year for adaptation, but this number is expected to double by 2030. Twelve years ago, wealthier countries promised to contribute $100 billion a year by 2020, a promise they’re expected to fall woefully short of once the 2020 figures are clear. 

This lack of accountability highlights a growing sense of frustration among younger people: Our leaders are not doing enough. The sacrifices made within the language — or as an article from The Economist describes it, “compromises accepted in order to preserve some progress,” — reflect how diplomats are failing to act fast enough to reduce global warming and protect the next generation. Greta Thunberg, along with other youth climate activists, echoed that sentiment through demonstrations held in Glasgow alongside the conference: “This is no longer a climate conference,” Thunberg said. “This is now a global north greenwash festival.” 

For the U.S., this rang particularly true when President Joe Biden’s administration reopened 80 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas leasing this week — four days after the end of COP26. The Biden administration claims it is against offshore drilling, and Biden passed an executive order stopping it in January. This order was overturned, however, by a judge nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2017, forcing the Biden administration to reopen the land to drilling. Offshore drilling, besides providing fuel for carbon emissions, is a threat in itself to marine habitats, as seen by the recent offshore pipeline leak that dumped 25,000 gallons of crude oil into the ocean by Huntington Beach.

With all of these failures on a global and national scale, students can feel like it’s impossible for them to make any impactful change. We can see the clear effects of climate change, like the drought’s impacts on local Yolo County farmers and the fires ravaging our state, and the failure of our leaders to act is disheartening and demoralizing. 

Yet, if there’s anything these last few weeks have taught us, it’s that diplomats and leaders respond to the pressure that individuals place on them. The protests that drew thousands to the streets in Glasgow were recognized by the leaders attending, as mentioned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his final remarks; the effects of the ballot box are also just as evident as ever. Directly, our votes elect the officials who will define climate policy, but indirectly, those elected officials shape other areas of government (like appointing judges), and thus climate policy.

Ultimately, the Glasgow Climate Pact provides a strong framework for countries to act on, but the existence of this pact alone is not enough to fully address the magnitude of the climate crisis — countries must follow through on their pledges to curb emissions. It’s not inherently an individual’s responsibility, but given that some COP21 agreements were not upheld, we must pressure our leaders so that they prioritize more drastic climate change policy, both through our votes and our voice. As Thunberg said on her Twitter, “A reminder: the people in power don’t need conferences, treaties or agreements to start taking real climate action. They can start today. When enough people come together then change will come and we can achieve almost anything.”

Written by: The Editorial Board


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