The topic of climate change has risen to the forefront of world issues recently, as world leaders met for the 26th annual international climate change conference: Conference of the Parties (COP). International leaders, diplomats, corporate representatives and activists gathered for the duration of the conference in Glasgow, Scotland with the goal of setting an aggressive plan to fight climate change over the coming year.
The most significant COP in recent years was the COP 21 in 2015, from which the Paris Climate Agreement was born. This was particularly momentous as it was the first international agreement among all present countries to commit to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius at maximum. Under this umbrella goal was the distribution of mutually understood Nationally Determined Contributions to global warming and correlating expectations for each country’s responsibility to act. At the Paris COP, the representatives agreed to reconvene every five years to address progress and advance the goals of the Agreement if necessary. COP 26 (delayed one year by the pandemic) was an opportunity for countries to intensify their promises and assess what has been successful over the past five years.
The overhanging issue regarding the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement: the promises did not keep us on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. It was understood that commitments made in COP 26 had to be even stronger.
Going into the conference, countries were asked to bring domestic plans to meet the following goals (from the UKCOP26 Team Website):
Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
Work together to create change
The conference came to a close on November 13th with the final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact, which has received mixed reactions from the international scientific community. While many are thrilled that an agreement was reached at all, the prevailing reaction seems to be that it doesn’t play the role it needs to play; per Nature, an environmental reporting publication, “modeling suggests that the promises will still not be enough to limit global warming to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels the goal stated in the 2015 Paris climate agreement” despite commitments to ending deforestation, reducing emissions, and investing in net-zero carbon companies.
The president of the COP outwardly recognized the disappointment of the conclusion at the end of the conference, but said that “rapid action” on the commitments made in the pact keep hope alive for limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
Additionally, unequal representation, responsibilities, and consequences were a common theme of the conference.
Economically weaker countries, especially those already feeling climate change’s effects, accused world powers of not pulling their weight and recognizing the enormous role they play. The prime minister of Fiji, Hon. Josaia Voreqe Bainamrama played a pivotal role in this: “Together, our coalition of the willing can keep 1.5 alive, keep low-lying island nations above water, keep erratic and severe weather from devastating us all and keep the trust between nations so we can keep faith that our children and grandchildren will have a future. That includes making good on the promise of $100 billion in climate finance.” He was referencing the financial commitment made by multiple superpower countries at the last conference, including the United States. Under the Trump Administration, which held power over most of the period since the Paris climate summit, that commitment was not met.
This sheds light on the issues of how climate change is perpetuated by nations that will suffer the least and have the most resources to recover from climate damage; if China, Russia, the US and others do nothing, island countries like Fiji will suffer the most.
Furthermore, alongside international delegates sat hundreds of lobbyists for fossil fuel companies. According to Global Witness, more lobbyists for big polluters were present than for any national delegation, with two dozen more reps than the next largest amount sent by a country. To read more about these inequities and to find more info about these lobbyists, visit this link.
A far more inspiring presence was that of youth activists, who drove forward their own COP demands: reduce world emissions by 50% of levels in 2010 by 2030, and invest money in those developing nations that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.
One activist that protested in the streets outside the conference for those two weeks was Niwot alumni Maya Beauvineau, who is currently in her pre-college gap year. Her plan was to go to the conference as a learner: “I decided to make it my priority to open my ears, rather than my mouth,” Beauvineau said. And what did she learn? The most clear injustice is “the exploitation of [developing countries’] lands in people at the hands of the Global Minority.” That, she says, goes hand-in-hand with the climate crisis. Developed countries perpetuate climate change, don’t suffer from it as significantly, and have the resources to deal with the consequences. The opposite is true for the Global Majority, or countries considered undeveloped.
Ultimately, Beauvineau is among the unimpressed. On top of a perceived lack of creativity within the forum, she says the presence of so many fossil fuel representatives truly revealed to her the influence corporate interests have on the perpetuation of global warming, and the corruption that enables them.
Her final comments in our interview hold more weight un-paraphrased. The following are Maya’s words:
“As much as I learned in these past 10 days about the toxic ties between capitalism and climate change, green washing and corruption, as well as human struggle, resilience and bravery, I also realized how much more I don’t know. For a lot of activists, awareness and emotion is what drives action, so, going forward, I look forward to learning more about the world. A combination of awareness, emotion, compassion, and courage is all we need to change the world.”