Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series on COP 26. Click this link to read the first part.

With COP 26 drawn to a close, it is time to take stock of the climate conference’s achievements, shortcomings, and implications for Canada. Despite the hype, the conference fell short of expectations and was lacklustre in many regards.  First, optimism was dashed before COP 26 even began with updated Nationally Determined Contributions failing to fall under the 2 degrees Celsius mark, let alone the preferred goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius. There were also notable absences at COP 26 from large players in the climate crisis like the leaders of China and Russia, to most of the Pacific Island Small Island States (SIS) leaders, who faced difficulties attending due to the pandemic causing  reduced flight offerings. The inability of state leaders from SIS, often described as the canaries in the coal mine of the climate crisis, to attend serves as a reminder of the stark disparities between countries at COP 26. Furthermore, multiple conference goals failed to materialize, with United Nations Secretary General António Guterres stating we must now enter “emergency mode.”

The two-week conference produced an abundance of declarations and pledges with the Glasgow Climate Pact garnering the most attention, albeit not for good reasons. An unexpected, last minute modification to the Glasgow Climate Pact by India’s environment minister watered down the agreement, which focuses on emission cuts, climate adaptation funding, and initially, phasing out unabated coal. With a sudden change to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ unabated coal, feelings of disappointment were shared amongst many delegations from both developing and developed countries. Nonetheless, COP 26 did produce several positive developments including the Declaration of Forests and Land Use, Global Methane Pledge, and Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans. Concern is still warranted, however. The culmination of these efforts have resulted in keeping the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius an option, but “the pulse is weak” notes Alok Sharma, the UK President of COP 26.

How did Canada perform at COP 26? During the conference, Canada signed the aforementioned declarations amongst many others and made numerous announcements. This included a call for global carbon pricing by Prime Minister Trudeau. With domestic difficulties in implementing a federal carbon tax, it comes to no surprise that this ambitious idea was met with passive reactions by other nations. However, this could be an area that propels Canada’s climate leadership in the future. Other key developments included Canada’s commitment to stop financial support to foreign unabated fossil fuel projects via the Statement on International Public Support for the Clean Energy Transition and to support coal transitions in other countries through providing up to $1 billion dollars to the Climate Investment Funds Accelerated Coal Transition Investment Program. Although some expected more from Canada, the presence of Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault was well received and did help signal a stronger stance on climate change from Canada.  

With most Canadians supportive of Canada’s climate policy ideas at COP 26 and Minister Guilbeault sworn in one month ago, Trudeau’s minority government has a window of opportunity to greatly advance climate interests and follow through on their environmental election promises.

In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau reaffirmed these campaign promises by announcing Canada’s commitment to end export thermal coal by 2030 as well as plan to cap oil and gas sector emissions at COP 26. Thus, some experts are predicting swift action on this file. The much-anticipated mandate letters will be important in this regard, providing clear direction as well as establishing priority levels to Canada’s COP 26 commitments.  As we wait to see whether Canada will capitalize on this chance to strengthen its climate leadership on the world stage and lead by example, cautious optimism is warranted based on Canada’s actions thus far.

In light of the above discussion, let’s now consider the question posed in the first article of this two-part series: Is COP 26 likely to change anything for the better?  COP 26 saw the continued contestation between stakeholders trying to maintain status quo or push for change. Despite this and the shortcomings discussed above, it would be remiss to say that no beneficial change is occurring. With a variety of statements, pledges, and pacts signed, change is now dependent on countries’ implementation of their commitments and whether they choose to act in concert upon the “building blocks” that COP 26 set out. As countries reconvene next year to revisit their country emission targets, the so-called “ratchet mechanism” within the Glasgow Climate Pact will hopefully help increase momentum and lead to more positive developments.

Jenna Richmond is an Associate Editor at iAffairs Canada. She is an MA candidate at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. Her research interests include international development, decolonization, and gender issues. She completed her undergraduate degree at Simon Fraser University in International Studies with a minor in Anthropology and certificate in Social Justice. Her professional experience includes working for the Government of Canada and the U.S. Federal Government on political and economic files.

Photo Credit: Adam Scotti (PMO)

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