Looking Back at COP26: Small Steps Forward, but Another Opportunity Wasted

On November 13, 2021, the 26th Annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) concluded. The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) is set to begin in Egypt on November 6th of this year.

Officials celebrated COP26 as a success thanks to the 11th hour adoption of the Glasgow Climate Pact. Commuting between Edinburgh and Glasgow on a shoestring budget, Alexandra MacDonald and Owen Stewart, two Sierra Club of Canada volunteers who traveled to Scotland, came away with a different impression.

For those that hold climate change as a priority, the pact suffers from a lack of ambition and implicit underestimation of the risks that climate change represents. Hubris abounded in Glasgow, perhaps amplified by the fossil fuel delegation, the largest group at the conference. Much ink has already been spilled criticizing COP26 and its outcome.

However, there are some (faint) silver linings from the conference. The pact keeps hope alive by retaining a 1.5C warming target. Some of the outstanding elements of the Paris Agreement were finalized. As one member of the Canadian delegation said "I have been to four COPs, and solutions are moving faster than they have before. There is more urgency." 

Hope is a key word here, because as it stands, the Glasgow Climate Pact delivers few solutions. And there was lots of hope to find at the conference, but not where you might expect to find it. Hope stems from the participants who traveled from around the world to highlight the crisis and present solutions, and from the groups supporting them back home. Hope stems from the connections made at the conference, the new solutions discovered and allies made.

That was how we tried to spend our time at COP26. Commuting between Glasgow and Edinburgh as part of a contingent including the Sierra Club of BC and Nuchatlaht First Nation, we worked to hold Canada to account and amplify the voices of other groups who share our concerns about the threat of climate change. 

In our small way we contributed to those calling for change and highlighted solutions to the climate crisis from here in Canada. In our time at COP26 we met with Indigenous leaders, union groups, politicians, scientists, government advisors and other environmental NGO’s to encourage a just, sustainable and achievable path for Canada to become as green as it presents itself to be.  

We worked to call out the hypocrisy of the Canadian government presenting itself as a climate leader while still investing in fossil fuel infrastructure. 

Despite the lack lustre conclusion, there are many highlights from COP26. Members of our group met with the Federal Environment Minister to advocate for old growth forest protection and the Indigenous Climate Action Network to amplify Indigenous climate solutions. We were interviewed by Canadian and International media and published articles discussing Indigenous environmental solutions and highlighting the good and bad from the conference.

Inside the COP26 grounds, our group hosted an anti-liquified natural gas protest along with the Sierra Club USA and Friends of the Earth Japan. Outside the COP26 grounds, we hosted a presentation highlighting the Nuchatlaht First Nation’s fight to protect salmon and old growth forest in their territory. 

We participated in marches and demonstrations held in Glasgow and the COP26 grounds. Held in Glasgow on November 6, it was estimated that 100,000 people marched. “We were both in awe at the size of the climate change march” says Alex, “seeing all those people marching is empowering. It gives you hope.”

Queen Elizabeth opened COP26 by saying, "the time for words has now moved to the time for action." It does not look like the conference heard her message, but others certainly recognize the urgency.

After a COP26 that fell short, there is an even greater focus on COP27 in Egypt. The Sierra Club Canada Foundation will be there, tracking the promises made and advocating for the change the world needs.

Will promises made in Glasgow be kept? Will the globe take action towards a sustainable future? Will hope be kept alive?