The coming weeks can be a turning point for international environmental policy. Heads of state from around the world recently gathered in Glasgow, Scotland for the 26th Conference of the Parties. This annual meeting under the UN banner has become synonymous with political inaction in recent years, but the urgency of tilting the balance towards a greener world might result in promising and much necessary action.
This is the backdrop leading to the teach-in hosted by University of New Brunswick Law Professor Jason MacLean and Environment and Society Professor Tracy Glynn. The science behind the ongoing talks is complex, but the stark situation of the planet was explained clearly: climate change is happening. It can be irreversible and devastating, but we still have time to turn the tide.
MacLean provided illustrative figures of both the state of planet and the main policies at stake at COP26. Although estimates differ, precautionary experts are warning that the world must radically change its energy production and land systems in this decade if we are to have more than a 50 per cent chance of avoiding a climate catastrophe. Besides hitting net-zero emissions, MacLean emphasized the importance of modifying current agricultural models to stay within a safe carbon budget, which is the balance between the emission and absorption of carbon dioxide.
MacLean underpinned three major compromises on the table at COP26. First, there is a growing demand to limit the increase of the global average temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius, rather than the 2-degree Celsius limit initially established by the Paris Agreement in 2015. Financial support to less economically developed states as well as the introduction of a global carbon market where to trade emissions are the second major point on the agenda. Finally, Global North countries are expected to take more ambitious targets to counterbalance the Global South’s more prolonged phase out of fossil fuels.
To conclude, MacLean redirected the focus of action to individuals. In his view, we must radically change the way we live our day-to-day lives; there have never been as many resources to learn about climate change, let alone as many people concerned about its effects. Therefore, we must become literate in climate change terminology and institutions.
Glynn provided a regional overview of climate change and the devastating effects of the extraction and use of fossil fuels both in New Brunswick and abroad. The province of New Brunswick is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. Commercial interests and government inaction are hampering a just energy transition in the province. Energy production, as MacLean mentioned, is a major contributor to CO2 emissions alongside deforestation and the burning of coal. Glynn also emphasized that the development of fossil fuel projects frequently violates treaties and Indigenous sovereignty rights, as seen in the 2013 shale gas exploration protest in Rexton, NB.
Partial gains such as moratoriums have been made due to demonstrations and public pressure, but climate activism is an “uneven terrain” at the international stage, Glynn said. Communities in the Global South, such as indigenous Wayuu and Afro-Colombian communities bear the cost of coal mining. Community displacements, health problems, and the persecution of union leaders have become rampant. This “colonial” coal is later burned at the NB Power plant in Belledune. Glynn used this example to support different anti-capitalist approaches for the transition to a greener world, emphasizing the need to end economic policies rooted in colonialism.
Her presentation concluded with a series of resources where individuals can make a difference at the provincial and community levels, reinforcing MacLean’s argument: everyone should be involved in this unprecedented period of transformative change.
The teach-in concluded with a question-and-answer period. Some of the topics discussed included nuclear energy, mining of rare metals to produce electric vehicles, and climate-caused migration. The key takeaway was that despite the dire situation, there is an opportunity to alleviate the consequences of a plausible climate cataclysm. Holistic change must trickle down from governments to the individual and address colonialism’s destructive legacy and responsibility for climate change.
Pablo Costa is a third year student at St. Thomas University studying history and French.