COP26: A Global Climate Summit for Change

The COP26 summit, which took place in Katowice, Poland on December 2-14th 2018 was the largest climate change conference ever. It has been hailed as a success by many who attended. The goal of this event was to reach an agreement that would not only help slow down global warming but also bring us back from the brink of disaster. With more than 20,000 participants and observers from 196 countries, they were able to come up with some promising steps for tackling climate change. The key to the success of this summit has been in its focus on three main areas:

COP26 achieved several major progressions in all 3 of these areas, however, a great deal of work remains to be done. The biggest question on everyone’s minds is, Are we moving fast enough?

In my opinion the answer is no, but when you consider progress from pre-COP23 summit in Bonn, where parties essentially continued with their policies without really belaboring the issue, it becomes more reasonable that the rest of the world is only now catching up with climate change. Additionally, COP26 was much more focused on transparency and finance than it was on policy as a result, as there were no new pledges for emission reductions (or even an agreement to implement previously announced contributions).

The second largest question is What does this mean for Canada? In my opinion, Canada’s role during COP26 was generally positive with a few exceptions.

What follows is a brief summary of the most important points from this summit that pertain to Canada and what those points mean for our country going forward into 2019 and 2020 as we head toward the next major climate change conference in Chile.

The Paris Agreement is still in full force and effect, however its ongoing implementation has been hampered by the fact that many countries have not yet ratified this agreement. The Paris Agreement is in place and it aims to keep global temperature increases between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius in an effort to avoid runaway climate change.

Ratifying the Paris Agreement requires a two-step process. First, signatories to the agreement must formally join it. Second, they must ratify the Agreement by domestically passing enabling legislation which includes their contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and limiting global temperature increases.

At COP26 Canada was a key player in ensuring that Parties continue to implement the Paris Agreement despite not having reached consensus on whether or not to extend the Agreement. Canada was successful in soliciting other G20 countries to ensure Parties reach consensus on this issue at COP27 in Chile later this year. The next Conference of the Parties will be held in Chile from December 3-14, 2018, following up on COP26 which just ended in Poland only a few weeks ago.

The Polish Presidency did an exceptional job of hosting COP26, however their reasons for not wanting to extend the Agreement are troubling and will be discussed further below.

Under Article 28 of the Paris Agreement each party must submit a Nationally Determined Contribution which is a plan that outlines how countries intend to contribute to achieving the Agreement’s overarching goal. These contributions are not legally binding but intended to increase transparency and accountability for individual countries.

Canada submitted its Nationally Determined Contribution in March of 2015 under the Trudeau administration, when they were in opposition. It was widely lauded as ambitious by other parties at COP21 however there is no legal requirement that these targets be met by 2020 which is the year that they were intended to be met. The Trudeau administration has recently revised their targets but they still fall short of what is needed in order for Canada to meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.