October 31st marked the start of COP26, the United Nations' much-anticipated global summit that draws leaders together to accelerate action towards the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. With COP26 kicking off this week, we asked members of the Coeuraj team: What critical areas need to be addressed to mobilize action against climate change, and enable a more sustainable future? What are you hoping to see as COP26 unfolds?
We received a diverse range of responses, some that touched on interests in seeing global leaders commit to stronger responsible investing standards and the need for renewed, collaborative processes that champion community voices, while others shared their personal hopes and concerns as global citizens. Read more below.
COP has always been a venue for world leaders to come together and seek common ground in tackling the climate crisis. But what about the stakeholders not at the table? For example, what can the COP process do to create meaningful dialogue between First Nation and Indigenous communities around the world and companies that will fuel the green economy through mining and extraction? How can COP support meaningful representation from smaller countries unable to attend this year?
I am hoping that leaders will start to explore new approaches of convening beyond negotiations—even the word negotiation suggests “winners” and “losers.” We need new approaches and techniques to facilitate dialogue to engage communities most impacted in the decision-making process and balance out the power dynamics between the “West” and the "rest.” Leveraging co-design to invite diverse, sometimes conflicting perspectives into the same conversation will help turn government pledges into tangible change on the community level.
The Government of Canada has taken strong positions on the international stage in the first few days of COP26. Capping emissions on fossil fuels, urging for a global carbon tax regime, pledging to end deforestation...these are all initiatives we are happy to see announced, and we await further details. But we’re also cautious; pledges for deforestation occurred back in 2014 with little improvement, and capping fossil fuel emissions while Wet’suwet’en land defenders are arrested and jailed for monitoring the Coastal GasLink pipeline construction raises questions.
Canada’s journey tackling the climate crisis is inextricably bound to Indigenous knowledge holders and their land. The recent comments by Prime Minister Trudeau, promoting the rights, knowledge, and leadership of Indigenous peoples in conservation—including by supporting Indigenous-led stewardship initiatives—is a positive sign. But with many of the commitments, these comments are short on details. There is a real opportunity to advance Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and Indigenous legal principles in the approach to combating climate change. These efforts and applications can be transformative in shifting how Canada thinks about its economy and its relationship with the land. Recently, the remote Northern Vuntut Gwich'in First Nation brought one of the largest solar projects in the Arctic online. They were also some of the first Indigenous peoples in Canada to declare a climate emergency and set a target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
For me, it’s quite straightforward (and personal): as an Australian with young children, I am concerned with the lack of global, long-term thinking and concrete action that the Australian government has demonstrated in the fight against climate change. We know that transforming systems requires grit, and now our leaders need to make decisions that create positive generational impacts as opposed to fixating on short-term returns.
My hope is that the international community is able to provide enough pressure on the Australian government to make a stronger commitment, and a concrete plan, for 2030. Currently, Australia is committing to a 26–28% reduction in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030. Contrast this with 55% for the EU, 40–45% for Canada, 65% for Germany, 68% for the UK and 50–52% for the US. Meanwhile, the government has committed to net-zero by 2050 but none of this is currently legislated and is based on existing policies. We need new approaches to combat climate change or else we’ll fall into achieving the same results, which we know would be disastrous for ourselves, our families, and generations to come.
Britain set a high regulatory bar about one week before the start of the conference, becoming the first G20 country to make implementing the TCFD recommendations mandatory. I consider the intersection of companies and capital to be an important part of this complex issue, and I’m eagerly watching to see what happens next. If governments universally require companies to disclose just how much risk climate change poses to their business model, institutional investors may shift capital away from carbon-intensive industries more rapidly. And sadly, that’ll be what it takes for some management teams and boards to back innovation and transformation with appropriate urgency.
I want more countries to make the same decision as Britain. It’s a big issue that billions of dollars of investment are being dumped into companies that claim net-zero targets and strong climate policy, while climate metrics are not reported in a common, consistent fashion. I probably talk about the TCFDs more than is appreciated, but they're part of a possible solution. Grounded in principles of simplicity, transparency and consistency, the TCFDs force companies to leverage scenario analysis. Companies must consider, prepare for, and report on, many possible climate futures. At the same time, they have become the gold standard for climate-minded institutional investors, who (thank goodness) are starting to make it crystal clear that they no longer have any patience for fuzzy reporting and loose targets.
Like many of my colleagues and fellow Canadians, adequately addressing climate change and laying the proper groundwork for a sustainable future hits close to home. As a father of two young children, I understand the generational climatic risks associated with shared inaction and find myself growing more cognizant of the world I will leave behind for them. Coming out of COP26 I hope we see a tangible path forward that favours action over rhetoric and balances the economic and environmental needs of member countries.
Unfortunately, due to successive decades of environmental nimby-ism, absolutism and indifference from all positions of the ideological spectrum, I am not optimistic that COP26 will chart a successful path forward unless a real effort is made to build climate consensus through a collaborative design process that involves all sides of the issue. Member countries need to structure COP to make a difference if they actually want to make a difference.
The United States enters COP26 with the aim of re-establishing some of its credibility in relation to climate change, after the previous administration pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, stripping away many critical environmental regulations and programs domestically. Though many individuals, nonprofit and advocacy groups, and even corporations continue their efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the US ranked fourth behind Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Canada in per-capita greenhouse-gas emissions in 2019. The current administration has signalled their commitment to picking up the mantle again in various ways, but without support from Republicans in Congress, we worry about how much change the US can make. We’re in no position to dictate terms to other countries about how they should address climate change when our own government can’t unite behind a shared understanding of climate change—that it exists, that it’s our fault, and that it’s our responsibility to fix.
What we hope to come out of COP26 is not only a renewed commitment to making the fight against climate change a priority for US lawmakers, but also a strategy for navigating a government and economic system that is at odds with the population it is meant to serve. A majority of Americans do want to fight against climate change and we have made progress. According to the New York Times, emissions have dropped 19% below 2005 levels, but they’ll need to drop to 50% below 2005 emission levels by 2030 to avoid catastrophic impact, particularly on coastal communities. To make the changes that are necessary, we need to find ways to connect with people from different political identities who oppose climate regulation. How do we strip away the jargon and help lawmakers, and by extension the constituents they represent, understand our reality and the action needed to protect our future? How do we bring groups who have been left out of the conversation to the table? We need all of these voices as we help companies, organizations, and groups of people navigate a path forward.