If you read the news headlines from mid-November 2021, you might assume that COP26 was a failure, leading to a suspension of international efforts and ultimately acceptance of the bleak future as outlined in the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report released earlier this year.
But, we would argue that there are compelling reasons to be optimistic about the outcomes of the COP26 meeting. Notably, the Glasgow Climate Pact found agreement among all the nations of the world that more needed to be done, by both private and governmental bodies, to contain and mitigate climate change. International consensus is a monumental achievement in this age of polarization and inflexibility, and it represents a unified recognition and acceptance of the problem – which is the first step towards building coalitions towards concrete remedies.
Following the Glasgow meetings, there are several important developments to highlight that mark progress toward ongoing change.
“Just Transition” Initiatives Are Critical
One area of contention at COP26 was the dilution of the call to “phase-out” fossil fuels, which was replaced with a call to “phase-down” fossil fuels. Many economies both local and national have been built on the fossil fuel industry, and many families currently depend on incomes from fossil fuel production, processing and consumption, in addition to depending on fossil fuels for basic human needs. While emissions mitigation is essential to containing greenhouse gas and pollution impacts, the impact on the daily livelihood and lifestyle of millions of people around the world must also be considered and solutions developed to minimize the negative impacts that may befall these individuals, businesses and communities through the transition. This is a critical element of the “Just Transition” that is being added to legislative discussions across the U.S. and globally: a responsible transition from a fossil fuel economy to a clean energy economy, that does not impose hardships on workers and communities whose livelihood depends on the current state of the industry.
In seeking to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal to contain global warming to 1.5°C, it is imperative to recognize the importance of successful Just Transition initiatives. Without including all citizens in the benefits of the transition, we will face extraordinary opposition to our efforts and never accomplish our mission of ensuring a healthy, hospitable and safe environment for the planet and its people. A successful Just Transition will create new businesses, an expanded workforce and grassroots advocates for the future.
A Global Discussion, Continued
The Glasgow Climate Pact’s lack of strict mandates or stringent ramifications for failure to perform in an exact manner is not a concession but a recognition of the unique conditions, capabilities and constraints faced by individual nations. Just as no single nation is completely responsible for the environmental damage before us, no single nation is capable of resolving the problem. This agreement on the issues at hand and the general nature of the solution allows for continued discussion. Through negotiations, Glasgow built a bridge to COP27 where together the global community will continue to build on the Paris Agreement and the goal of containing warming to 1.5°C.
For those of us working in the energy industry, we are at a critical time for action. In the absence of global mandates, we must expand our efforts across the nation and locally to reduce emissions and use energy more efficiently, through national and state legislation, corporate actions and individual choices. We must rise to the challenge of bringing innovative new technologies and solutions to the market to support a successful transition to a clean energy economy. At the same time, we must execute this transition responsibly and justly, in order to avoid leaving behind the people who depend on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihood and economic opportunity.