Representatives from around the world converged in Glasgow for COP26 in November (after being delayed one year due to the global pandemic), to check in again on who’s responsible for stopping climate change. I’m going to go ahead and spoil the main outcome right now: we’re still not on track to keep within 1.5 degrees of warming, despite that now being the promised target in the new Glasgow Agreement. It’s easy to be cynical or indifferent to COP, especially when the fossil fuel sector has a bigger “delegation” than any single country, and/or you don’t have a particularly strong opinion about 5-year common timeframes or the Global Stocktake, for example.
That being said, we think it’s important to know whether world leaders’ promises are taking us down the “road to resilience” or the road to hell in an EV. So I’ve poured through the statements, the frameworks, the articles, and the declarations, and I’ve identified some (non-exhaustive) highlights of what went down. And not only that—I’ve also cobbled together some (non-exhaustive) examples of how the commitments at COP line up with Climate Action Team’s recommendations for Manitoba. Read on for this non-exhaustive (but still over the recommended word limit) exploration of COP v. R2R.
The 2015 Paris Agreement had set a goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees, “aiming” to keep it closer to 1.5. But in the Glasgow Agreement, countries agreed to a 1.5 degree target. This is good, except for the aforementioned issue that current emission reduction targets (or nationally determined contributions (NDCs)) do not actually keep us within 1.5. Even with the new NDCs announced at COP26, we are still on track for 2.1-2.4 degrees global temperature rise by 2100. In her opening speech, Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, called any warming over 2 degrees “a death sentence.”
In order to keep warming within 1.5 (we are already at 1.1), we must, according to the IPCC, achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050, and a 45% reduction globally below 2010 levels by 2030. These are the targets used by the Road to Resilience.
Canada has set a goal of net-zero by 2050, and earlier last year, the federal government set a new 2030 target of 40-45% below 2005 levels by 2030. However, at the end of COP26, countries were instructed to revise their NDCs before COP27 to make them consistent with 1.5 degrees, which means that Canada will have to revise its 2030 target again. Because of the very-cool fact that Canada is the worst emitter on a per capita basis in the world, and is historically responsible for 65.5 billion tonnes of carbon emissions since 1850, analysts have calculated that a 60 percent reduction would be closer to doing our fair share.
A non-exhaustive list of international outcomes:
- The Glasgow Pact, the main decision text of COP26, calls for “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” This is kind of exciting because it’s the first mention of “fossil fuels” in a COP declaration. But the original draft text which, before it was watered down, called to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” would have been a lot more exciting. The G20 has been promising to end fossil fuel subsidies by 2009. Ideally of course, we should be phasing out not just subsidies but all fossil fuels.
- More net-zero commitments, including India by 2070.
- A call for developed countries to double adaptation financing, to support developing countries in responding to increasing climate impacts (disproportionately caused of course by said developed countries). Developed countries failed to reach their climate finance goal of USD 100 billion by 2020. The ability of countries such as India to reach their net-zero commitments is dependent on this international support, so we really hope that Canada and other developed nations do a better job of ponying up in the next few years.
- Finalizing the Paris Agreement “rulebook,” meaning we can now finally shift towards implementation.
Some of Canada’s commitments’ outcomes:
- A pledge to “end new direct public support for the international unabated fossil fuel energy sector by the end of 2022, except in limited and clearly defined circumstances that are consistent with a 1.5C warming limit and the goals of the Paris Agreement?” (italics and question mark are mine). Leaving aside the second half of that sentence entirely, as one of the biggest oil producing countries in the world, also ending domestic subsidies (or ending production) of oil and gas would be doing the world an even bigger favour e.
- A cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector, in line with reaching net-zero by 2050.
- Prime Minister Trudeau called to triple the percent of global emissions covered by a form of carbon pricing by 2030.
- Commitments around coal, including reaching a net-zero electricity grid by 2035; ending exports of thermal coal by 2030; and providing $1 billion in financing for countries looking to move away from coal.
We’ll explore some additional commitments on Canada’s part below.
COP26 vs Manitoba’s Road to Resilience
The Road to Resilience includes sections on buildings, food, transportation, energy, natural spaces, and climate justice. Here’s how Canada’s COP commitments connect to some of those areas.
In Manitoba, methane emissions are linked to our use of natural gas for heating (as well as animal agriculture, fertilizer, and organic waste). A great way to reduce methane leaks would be to stop using natural gas altogether. Here’s how the Road to Resilience says we could do it:
- Convert existing homes and buildings to other sources of heat such as electricity, geothermal, or biomass, while at the same time increasing energy efficiency (by making sure buildings are sealed well, improving installation, and installing heat pumps).
- These upgrades need to be made affordable for homeowners, something that could be facilitated by reintroducing (and expanding) Manitoba Hydro’s PAYS (Pay As You Save) program, which used efficiency savings on energy bills to finance green retrofits.
- Likewise, all new homes and buildings should be designed to rely on alternative sources of energy and to meet the highest energy efficiency standards.
- Installing district geothermal networks would be an efficient way to provide zero-emission heat without increasing electricity needs.
- This could be enforced by a moratorium on natural gas for new buildings in Winnipeg (city council is currently exploring what it would take to get the city off natural gas completely). In the US, the Governor of New York State has expressed a desire for a state-wide ban on natural gas by 2027.
340 organizations representing civil society, Indigenous communities, and scientists (including Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and Wa Nis Ka Tan from Manitoba) submitted a declaration to UNFCCC called “Climate mitigation efforts must reject so-called ‘sustainable hydropower’ as a solution to combat climate change.”
Hydropower expansion was being touted at COP26 by groups such as the International Hydropower Association as a way to reach net-zero goals. But the declaration expresses concern over climate finance dollars being channeled towards hydropower versus other renewable sources of energy that may have fewer social and environmental costs. A separate statement from a group of UN rapporteurs also drew attention to the human impacts of dams.
Manitoba’s hydropower is the main reason our emissions are relatively low compared across all the Canadian provinces. But these dams have destroyed ecosystems and flooded traditional lands, with little consultation with or compensation to Indigenous communities. Manitoba’s transition should be based on investing in new forms of renewable electricity such as solar and wind, ensuring that this development takes place as much as possible through public, co-operative, and community ownership and oversight.
- Manitoba Hydro and the federal government should negotiate a satisfactory implementation of the Northern Flood Agreement (made in 1977) with Pimicikamak Cree Nation, which promised “the eradication of mass poverty and mass unemployment” in exchange for the flooding of traditional territory, and has not yet been honoured.
- The provincial government has been signaling the possibility of privatizing Manitoba Hydro, but it must remain publicly owned in order to retain accountability and a broader social mandate to keep energy accessible and affordable y.
- After the cancellation of Manitoba Hydro’s solar rebate program a few years ago, Efficiency Manitoba announced it would reintroduce a new incentive program by the end of the 2021/2022 fiscal year, but this has yet to materialize.
Canada joined a coalition of countries, cities, car manufacturers and other organizations at COP26 pledging to “work towards all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission…globally by 2040 and by no later than 2035 in leading markets.”
Transportation produces the most emissions compared to any other sector in Manitoba. Here are some measures that would help encourage the shift towards zero emission vehicles:
- Follow Canada (and Quebec’s) example and set a deadline for the end of ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) sales.
- Subsidize the cost of EVs (as BC, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador already do, complementing the federal government’s iZEV rebate program).
However, focusing on improving public transit would be a more efficient approach to reducing emissions, while also making transportation easier and more affordable for the majority of people:
- The province must support the City of Winnipeg in securing funding to ensure that the new Winnipeg Master Transit Plan is implemented, ideally even sooner than the proposed 25-year timeline. The improved route design and service frequency included in the new plan would make public transit a much more convenient and desirable way to travel.
- The province could create a publicly-owned inter-city transportation service (like the former Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation).
Canada, along with 130 other countries, signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land use, promising to “wor[k] collectively to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.”
Protecting and restoring forests, and other ecosystems, is the best way to reduce atmospheric CO2 concentrations, which we must also do in order to keep below 1.5 degrees.
To support Canada’s pledge to reverse forest loss, Manitoba could:
- Better protect provincial parks such as the Whiteshell and Duck Mountain, as well as the Porcupine Hills, which are currently subject to logging and other industrial activity.
- Require better accounting mechanisms on the part of logging companies to more accurately measure the amount of emissions they are producing across all their operations.
- Provincially, begin tracking emissions not just from logging mills, but also land use change caused by logging.
Let’s also not forget that the Canadian government continues to build the TransMountain pipeline, and to send in the RCMP to protect corporate interests and force the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. In a statement on COP, Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs leader Arlen Dumas pointed out that while Trudeau is making promises, “First Nations have been criminalized for simply protecting their land and fulfilling their duty.”
While the fossil fuel sector was well-represented at COP, many from the Global South were not able to travel to Glasgow due to lack of vaccine access. Indigenous peoples, youth, scientists, and other members of civil society who were present were barred from observing negotiations. Others gathered in protest, in the streets of Glasgow and around the world.
We don’t yet know how all the outcomes at COP will reverberate at a more local level. But a comparison with the Road to Resilience shows us where some of Canada’s commitments are still lacking, whether in ambition or in missing the opportunity to pair emission reductions with social benefits and community development.
As the satirical climate film Don’t Look Up points out, it is ridiculous to ask regular citizens to “launch their own missile strikes” to take out the asteroid of climate change. We are relying on world leaders (and political leaders in Manitoba) to do that (and not say they are launching missile strikes when they are actually shooting bb guns). At the same time, climate change is (thankfully) not actually an asteroid, and there will never be a point at which it is “the end.” We should never allow ourselves to take comfort in hopelessness because we think it is too late or we are too powerless, but continue to advocate, to organize, and to implement solutions at every level.
Organizer, Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition