This was originally published in the Sudbury Star
The past two weeks at COP26 have been both inspiring and frustrating.
Thousands of young people in Glasgow, and millions more around the world, took to the streets to call for political leaders to take real action on climate change. There were lots of impressive-sounding new commitments, but overall, a worrying lack of urgency to face the challenge of the climate crisis.
COP26 was a time to bring the leaders of the world together to make sure that all countries are on track to meet the targets of the 2015 Paris Agreement. When they signed that historic agreement, leaders from around the world committed to keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. To achieve that goal, the science is clear that emissions of greenhouse gases must nearly halve by 2030. This is a code red for the planet.
Over the past year, we’ve witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change in Canada, and around the world, including heatwaves, wildfires, and flooding – caused by the mere 1.0 degree of warming we have experienced so far.
Scientists have shown that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius will avoid the disastrous effects we can expect if warming is allowed to go to 2 degrees Celsius and beyond.
To “keep 1.5 alive” – the unofficial motto of COP26 – we needed to see a major ramp-up in ambition, with the biggest polluters coming to the table with new targets to rapidly reduce their pollution by 2030.
But that did not happen. Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific group has analyzed all those 2030 targets and calculated that they would put the world on track for 2.4 degrees of warming – and only in the unlikely event that all countries actually achieve them.
World leaders can and must do better in the years to come. And Canada – as a wealthy, high polluting country and a major exporter of fossil fuels – must play a role as a climate leader on the world stage.
We saw some promising signs that Canada is willing to step up. It was one of 20 countries that committed to stopping government financing of fossil fuels overseas. This new agreement could see a shift of $20 billion away from the development of fossil fuels.
But now we need to see action at home to stop funding the oil and gas extraction that is leading us to climate disaster.
We also heard the new Environment Minister, Steven Guilbeault, reiterate the climate promises his party made at the recent federal election. He announced that Canada will stop exporting thermal coal by 2030.
Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and has no place in the low carbon transition, so we were disappointed not to see that date brought forward. Canada can’t profit from selling coal for another eight years and claim to be a climate leader!
There was no advance on Canada’s target for 2030: 40-45 per cent. While it will be an enormous challenge to meet this target, it falls short of Canada’s fair share given its historic responsibility for climate change.
The fight against climate change doesn’t stop once COP26 is over. Now the real work must start to make sure that Canada, and the rest of the world, is doing everything it can to reduce emissions and avoid a climate catastrophe.
The youth have made their voices heard – they want action from their political leaders. It is now the job of every politician, whether it is municipal, provincial, or federal, to be ambitious and introduce policies that will give us a safe and sustainable future.
If they won’t listen to young people and fail to take the climate crisis seriously, then we are going to hold them accountable.
That is why we are taking the Government of Ontario to court for rolling back on climate ambition in this province. Next September, we will face the provincial government in court for failing to protect our Charter right to life, liberty, and security of the person.
The message that all political leaders must hear following the past two weeks at COP26 is clear – we need you to do more.