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Wednesday, May 29, 2024
Keeping it Green: Nations United: Climate conference signals shift away from fossil fuels

After two weeks of negotiation, all 197 countries participating in the 26th United Nations Conference of Parties (COP26), an annual meeting to address climate change, agreed to the Glasgow Climate Pact, which establishes clear next steps for preventing the worst impacts.

LESS FUEL TO THE FIRE: Despite overwhelming evidence that carbon emissions drive warming and severe weather, the pact is the first climate agreement to explicitly acknowledge the role of fossil fuels. This concrete language and new pacts to phase out their use signal the end of an era for these dirty fuels.

It is estimated that Canada spent $18 billion to support fossil fuel industries in 2020. Even though more than 500 industry lobbyists attended COP26, all participating countries agreed to “phase down” coal use and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.”

Coal burning is the largest contributor to global warming; however, some coal-reliant nations, like India, would not commit to completely phasing it out.

Including Canada, 30 countries agreed to end public support for unabated international fossil fuel energy by 2022, and 20 countries also made this commitment for oil and gas projects. Some “abated” projects, which incorporate carbon-capture technologies, may still receive funding.

Some nations and sub-national governments even pledged to completely eliminate oil and gas – this new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) includes Québec, but not yet Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Canada would cap oil and gas emissions and reach net-zero by 2050.

However, Canada did exhibit leadership when Trudeau encouraged all countries to settle on a global carbon-pricing system.

COOKING WITH GAS: Some COP26 pledges also targeted methane: within 20 years of being released into the atmosphere, this greenhouse gas has 80 times more potential to cause warming than carbon dioxide.

While governments work to reduce industrial methane emissions, including from agriculture and resource extraction, individual lifestyle actions can also limit warming by this potent gas. Diets that frequently include beef and lamb carry a substantial methane footprint.

Methane is also produced when organic materials like food and fabric break down in landfills without oxygen. Composting food waste and recycling textiles reduce local methane emissions; for example, clothes, shoes and accessories can be recycled at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in St. Catharines.

EVERGREEN INVESTMENT: Though many have already made this shift, hybrid or electric vehicles will soon become the new norm. At COP26, countries signed several different agreements aiming to sell only zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

In the meantime, personal travel footprints can be lowered by using public transit or active transportation (walking, cycling, roller skating).

Air travel is often the largest personal greenhouse gas contribution. If flying is unavoidable, buying carbon offsets is inexpensive: a round-trip from Toronto to the Bahamas can be offset for less than $35.

At the climate conference, more than 100 countries agreed to stop deforestation by 2030; together, those nations are responsible for 85 per cent of the world’s forests. Planting and protecting native trees on our own private properties, as well, can be a valuable contribution.

Even several hundred financial organizations, which collectively manage assets worth $130 trillion, agreed to shift investment strategies to prioritize net-zero emissions by 2050. This will involve funding renewable energy and divesting from fossil fuels; on a smaller scale, these are also valuable parameters to set for personal investment accounts.

COP26 highlighted the urgency of the climate crisis, the obsolescence of fossil fuels and the need to collaborate with fellow nations and nature itself to prevent severe climate change impacts.

That said, success in this global challenge will require individual contributions and continued pressure on companies and governments to follow through on agreements.

Kyra Simone is a green-at-heart NOTL resident with master's degrees in biology and science communication. In her spare time, she advocates for sustainable change, picks up litter, makes recycled jewelry, and transforms furniture bound for the landfill.

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