If you saw the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) just-released climate report, you already know that our planet is in trouble. And if you didn't, here's the short version: Humans — namely the world's largest emitters and richest countries — are responsible for the pollution that is changing the climate system so quickly that the earth can't keep up. Climate change is real, and it's already here. And it's killing people and destroying environments right now.
If we'd like to continue living on — and enjoying — this earth, we need to jump in with both feet, and we need to do it now. But we can't do it alone. We need our leaders fully on board in order to make impactful changes.
So how do we do that? It's not easy. But it is doable — and it, in part, hinges on an important meeting of world leaders coming up called the COP26.
Why Is COP26 Important?
It's easy to get lost in all of the acronyms (IPCC! GHG! CO2!), but COP26 is shorthand for "Conference of the Parties," and it refers to the 197 nations and territories that are signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The United Nations convenes an annual meeting of the parties to the UNFCCC, called the COP, every year to organize a global response to the climate crisis. And right now, all eyes are on COP26, or the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, held in Glasgow from October 31-November 12. This is a big deal, as COP26 is all about taking action — not talking shop or simply making plans — to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is our last best chance to avoid catastrophic impacts from a warming world.
What Is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement is an international treaty that created a framework through which countries take collective action to combat climate change. It was established in 2015, when 197 countries pledged to work together as a global team to fight climate change. It's important because it set a clear goal to limit average global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius (and preferably 1.5°C) compared to pre-industrial levels. To make this happen, all countries have to work as a global team to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a big way.
And, we know — you've heard all of this before. But it's worth noting that this is doable, but only if ALL of the countries involved do their part. (That's why it was such a big deal when then-president Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement in 2017 — and why President Biden made it one of his first priorities to rejoin the Paris Agreement in February.)
The stakes are high for all of us. But they’re even higher for people who are living in poverty, women, children, and indigenous people, because climate change disproportionately affects those who can afford it least — even though it’s largely caused by western lifestyles in the richest countries. That’s why the Paris Agreement specifically addresses this issue of “climate justice” — because the people who are least responsible for causing climate change are the ones who will suffer the most.
Why Is Climate Justice Important?
Climate justice comes down to this fact: If you have money and resources, you are better able to adapt to changing weather patterns, extreme temperatures, drought, floods, and new migration patterns that are caused by climate change. People with fewer resources can’t. There's a social cost to climate change that's inordinately paid by people who can't afford it — and too often, they're paying with their livelihoods, or paying with their lives.
The people who are being affected by wildfires, floods, drought, and pollution are by and large not the ones responsible for causing climate change. But they’re the ones who are being punished. Many can’t afford to move, or have nowhere to go. That means even if they’re lucky enough to escape with their lives, these climate refugees may lose their livelihoods and their homes. And they can’t afford it.
Climate justice is about justice for humans — and the last time we checked, it was 100% humans reading this blog. In order to make a just transition to a clean-energy economy that doesn’t target our most vulnerable citizens, the largest polluters and richest countries must step up the ambition of their commitments and set specific, actionable goals to rapidly reduce their emissions and help fund less-developed countries' transition to clean energy. And that’s where COP26 comes in.
What Should We Keep Our Eye on at COP26?
All of the challenges we're facing hinge on limiting climate change to about 1.5° Celsius. But to do that, we need to identify — and achieve — some ambitious emissions-reductions targets. Each country is being asked to update its emission-reduction targets at COP26 in October to ensure they are consistent with keeping temperature rise below 1.5ºC. These targets will vary based on that country’s challenges and plans of action and in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities, but each will focus on specific ways for that country to reduce pollution, keep fossil fuels in the ground, invest in renewables, stop deforestation, and move toward electric vehicles and new real-zero targets.
Additionally, a new report published in advance of the conference lays out a five-point plan designed to keep representatives on target and to challenge immediate action on the following: cutting emissions; giving financial assistance to developing countries; helping countries with fewer resources adapt; compensating the consequences of climate change; and setting a five-year timeframe to accomplish these goals.
Climate change isn't some abstract thing. It's already here. To survive, we'll have to adapt, and we'll have to help countries with fewer resources become more resilient. Mitigating the effects of climate change will take significant investments of both money and human resources. That’s why we're calling on world leaders to support the efforts of COP26 both financially and through cleaner energy initiatives, and we're calling on world leaders to take action — NOW — to make climate and the transition to a fossil fuel-free economy a top priority.
Inaction is Not an Option
We've known about climate change and the risks it poses for years now. The most recent UN scientific report simply confirms what we've known all along: Humans are a major contributor to climate change, and their actions have caused the planet to get 1.1°C hotter since the 19th century. Heat waves, floods, and wildfires are killing people across the globe, and we have to act NOW if we're going to do anything about it. We love this Earth of ours — and we're pretty sure that you do, too. So we're calling on everyone to take action now by signing our Global Climate Petition. We can do this. But it's going to take all of us to make it happen.