Summary of my participation at COP26

For the past two weeks, I have been attending (remotely) the 26th Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, as part of my Masters in Environmental Management at the University of Sherbrooke.

For the past 10 years, the University of Sherbrooke has been sending a delegation of students to the Conferences of the Parties to train them, in the field, to become environmental actors in our society. This year, for reasons of equity and accessibility, the delegation chose to stay in Quebec and attend COP26 from a distance. The last two weeks have been full of challenges and successes

What is the CoP?

The Conference of the Parties, also called COP in French, is a gathering of states that has been held since 1995, through which states ratify conventions in which states commit to adopt commitments.

In order to participate in the conferences, a state must be a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The objective of the UNFCCC is to address anthropogenic GHG emissions in order to limit climate change. There are currently over 190 Parties that meet annually at the Conferences of the Parties. The COP is therefore the time when countries work to operationalise the objectives and obligations of the UNFCCC. Parties can adopt commitments that are not directly included in the UNFCCC text, such as the target of providing $100 billion annually to developing countries.

Over the years, the Parties have signed three conventions. The first is the UNFCCC, the second is the Kyoto Treaty and the last is the Paris Agreement. TheParis Agreement, adopted at the 2015 COP, is a convention that takes place during the COPs but focuses on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. This treaty, ratified by more than 190 states, was built around the goal of keeping global warming well below 2°C and ideally below 1.5°C. To achieve this target, States are called upon to set up inventories of their GHG emissions at national level and above all to reduce their emissions.

The good deeds of COP26

Beyond Oil and Gas

In the first week of negotiations, Prime Minister Legault was the first leader to join the Alliance Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), which at the time consisted only of the founding states of the agreement, Costa Rica and Denmark. This initiative aims to stop the exploitation and exploration of hydrocarbons on national territories. More than 11 members, divided into different categories according to their reduction commitment, are now members of the BOGA. The absence of the US, Canada and other oil states has been noted and criticised. Several of the countries that have not joined the BOGA are the largest oil producers and their absence is seen as a brake on GHG emission reductions.

Mobilisation of civil society 

I had the chance to attend several events organised by various civil society organisations. These events, which take place on the margins of the COP, are an opportunity for different actors to come together and discuss issues that are not covered in the official negotiations. Individuals present in Glasgow organised daily debriefs to inform civil society here in Quebec about the progress of the conference. These meetings were privileged moments of exchange and, above all, ways to access information from primary sources. 

Along the same lines, many individuals and committed citizens have written open letters, pleas or even set up video clips on various social networks. In Quebec, the last few weeks have been marked by a wave of solidarity, mobilisation and general awareness of the issue of climate change. 

The least successful of the COP26 

Fossil fuels

The presence of fossil fuel lobbyists was criticised by members of civil society and even some scientists. There were over 500 lobbyists at COP26, making it the largest delegation. By comparison, the Brazilian delegation, which had the largest Party delegation, was composed of 400 individuals. The sheer number of lobbyists and the resources they have at their disposal has worried many. There was concern that the term fossil fuels would be dropped from the final text of the Glasgow decision . It is important to note, however, that the final text includes a reduction in the use of fossil fuels rather than an exit, as was originally intended. 

Accessibility challenges

The twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties is marked by major challenges of accessibility and equity. COVID-19, which forced the postponement of the last COP, has impacted on the conference again this year. More than 55,000 accreditations were granted for this 26th conference. However, due to health measures, less than 20,000 people could be present at the conference at any one time. There was not enough room for the individuals present to attend the events. 

In addition to the challenges on the ground among the accredited, many people were unable to attend the conference due to issues such as vaccination, access to visas to enter the country or even travel costs. This led to reflections on the representativeness of different voices in climate action, including those of the most marginalised populations. Several civil society organisations have criticised the exclusion of these voices and have tried to amplify them as accurately as possible.

For those who, like me, did not travel to Glasgow, it was rather difficult to follow the event from a distance. Some of the negotiations were held in a plenary closed to the public, while others were public but not broadcast on the internet. Those who wanted to follow the event had to be patient to find their way through the array of conferences and, above all, to gain access to them.  

Post CoP26

Local mobilisation, in our neighbourhoods, in our cities and even in our region, is described by many experts as the key to making our societies more proactive and ambitious in the fight against climate change. Showing that we care about the environment and that we expect to see real change in this area puts pressure on the political class and leads to action.

Another step we can all take is to vote in elections. Elections are pivotal moments in our society, when political parties can raise their ambitions and promises. It is also a time for citizens to show their concerns and issues that are important to them. Last November's municipal elections were described as a green shift, due to the high number of elected officials who are concerned about the environment.

We are all responsible for tackling climate change and in one way or another we can make a difference. Each person has the opportunity and freedom to find their own way.