Beyond economics: humanizing climate action

By Kathleen Cross, Campaign Officer – Advocacy and Mobilization

With very limited time left to avert catastrophic climate change, it is imperative that COP26 negotiators seek fundamental change and avoid false solutions that protect market interests and the status quo. 

To protect the dignity of all who share this planet, human rights must be at the centre of climate policies. Sadly, this is often lost in political negotiations that tend to focus solely on the economic dimension.  

Fisherman Alexander and his daughter Alexandra in front of their destroyed home after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Eigueboy, Coron Island, Palawan, Philippines.

Humanizing climate analysis and action 

Climate change is already ravaging many communities costing lives, destroying ecosystems and forcing displacement. While some ecological restoration is possible, many of the changes are irreversible.  

Past COPs have conceived of Loss and Damage under the Warsaw International Mechanism and the Santiago Network, but these have not yet been mobilized to provide effective measures or compensation. Done well, Loss and Damage would be an ethical way to respond to how climate inaction affects communities in the Global South, and the irreversible harm it produces 

CIDSE notes that Loss and Damage should be included alongside emissions as a measure of the human impact of climate change and actions taken to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. COP26 must agree to an outcome indicator to allow Loss and Damage to proceed immediately.   

Financing for Loss and Damage should also be a standing priority at COPs alongside Adaptation and Mitigation. COP26 should also enshrine the Polluter Pays Principle, taxing polluting companies’ profits to contribute for the loss and damage cause by their actions or inaction.  

False solutions 

Geoengineering, carbon capture and storage and carbon markets all fail to address the root cause of the problem—that a small portion of the Earth’s inhabitants, including Canadians, consume more than their fair share of the planet’s resources, often more than the planet can support. Our lifestyles and consumption also produce more emissions than our planet can sustain. 

The concept of “technological salvation” provides false hope in unproven processes of resolving a problem that, being human in origin, requires human solutions. The Ecclesial Network Alliance for Ecological Justice believes that “COP26 gives an opportunity like no other to shift direction and transition to a new social, economic and cultural system that stops our unjust ways and structures toward people and nature.” 

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls us to resist the technocratic paradigm and to connect with others, not merely though easily scrolled-past and ignored digital means, but in ways that fully recognize the human spirit and the innate dignity of each person. As climate policies are discussed at COP26, we must ensure that people are not reduced to pawns expected to adapt to economic and political plans and that integral human development is at the centre of climate actions.  

The solutions to this crisis are not just about reducing tons of CO2, but start with a collective commitment to radically shift our lifestyle and stop all activities harming the environment those that defend it. The solution must include recognition and support for Culture-based Solutions (CbS) and pay for ecological services.

Ecclesial Network Alliance for Ecological Justice, 2021; 6

An integral view of land use 

Together, land use change and forestry management account for a third of cumulative emission totals. They are also deeply implicated in the loss of biodiversity. As such, they are areas of major concern in climate action planning. Climate actions must be structured to prevent land degradation; protect ecosystems and waterways; and prioritize people over profits. 

The community of Los Prados, Honduras, which has unreliable access to electricity, was neither informed nor consulted prior to the construction of a major solar farm. They lost land, forest and food sources to the solar project whose energy output is being sold for profit on the state’s energy grid. 

We have seen how prioritizing economic and technological solutions over people’s rights can be detrimental, particularly to already vulnerable populations. Green energy programs, nature-based solutions and even adaptation and mitigation programs must be defined in ways that benefit those whom they directly affect and properly addresses the intersections of climate and development. 

Specific attention must be paid to the rights of Indigenous peoples, who are the protectors of 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity and much of the world’s forests. Mere consultation with stakeholders in climate plans must be replaced with approaches that genuinely collaborate with local communities and safeguard the right of Indigenous peoples to exercise free, prior and informed consent. 

Climate change means shifting hearts and minds (a true metanoia in faith based terms), policies and practices towards a ‘system change’ mentality. COP26 must take the first radical steps to build a new inclusive and socially just planetary contract beyond material ‘for profit’ goals.

Ecclesial Network Alliance for Ecological Justice, 2021; 5-6

Preparing for COP26

By Kathleen Cross, Campaigns Officer – Advocacy and Mobilization

COP21 in Paris

Postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Glasgow on October 31. 

Measures put in place to minimize the still-present risk of infection have effectively excluded many from the Global South who are most vulnerable to climate change, along with many youth organizations, from the conference’s halls of power. This means that the necessary high-level decisions of COP26 may be taken without being informed by the experiences, expertise and needs of those who are most affected.  

State of affairs 

The average global temperature has already risen by 1.1 C since the mid-19th century. By the end of 2021, we will have used up 86 per cent of the carbon budget for a 50/50 chance of staying below an average rise of 1.5 C, with half of total emissions released in the past 40 years alone1. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that we will likely reach the 1.5 C mark within the next 20 years2

Pledges made ahead of COP26 indicate an increase in global emissions of about 16 per cent in 2030 over 2010, which would lead to a warming of 2.7 C3. Notably, these estimates expect global temperatures to rise above this threshold before settling into the “average” pattern. This will have significant effects on people and the planet and will necessitate significant mitigation, adaptation and recovery efforts. 

Canada on key issues at COP26 

Canada is the 10th largest carbon emitter, and the worst per-capita contributor to climate-changing emissions4. Canada and the U.S. were the only G7 countries to have increased emissions since signing the Paris Agreement, with Canada’s increase being five times that of the U.S.5 Canada must urgently end funding the fossil fuel industry and redirect the money to a just transition at home and abroad. 

Emissions target: Canada’s Nationally Determined Contribution ahead of COP26 is to reduce emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. However, the Climate Action Network calculates that to contribute its fair share to the 1.5 C goal, Canada must increase this objective to at least 140% below 2005 levels by 2030.   

Financing for adaptation and mitigation: While Canada announced in June 2021 that it would double its contribution to climate financing to CA$5.3 billion over the next five years, this target falls dramatically short of its fair share, which would be about US$4.2 billion per year6

Article 6: COP25 failed to reach agreement on the rules for the Carbon Market under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Canada must advocate for transparency in accounting for credits and ensure strong protections for human rights, especially those of Indigenous Peoples, in the approvals process. Weak or ambiguous carbon trading rules would only create a new carbon economy instead of reducing overall emissions and could perpetuate colonial economic and natural resource management approaches, further exacerbating existing inequalities and vulnerabilities. 

From policy to practice 

Because climate action is fundamentally about human rights, we must consider the human impact of all climate policies. Delayed climate action will increase the severe weather events that worsen food insecurity, conflict and forced migration. Even climate solutions can have heavy costs. Zero-emission vehicles, for instance, require the pollution-heavy mining of rare earth metals for batteries and hydroelectric projects often displace, dispossess, and impoverish Indigenous communities. 

The Paris Agreement enjoins parties to respect, promote, and consider their obligations to human rights, including the right to health, the rights of Indigenous peoples, local communities, people in vulnerable situations, gender equality, the empowerment of women and intergenerational equity. COP26 must advance these priorities across all policies and ensure that climate negotiations account for the human and environmental cost of both inaction and of planned actions.   

[1] Carbon Brief, October 5, 2021

[2] IPCC 2021 report released August 9, 2021

[3] UN Climate Change update October 25, 2021

[4] Carbon Brief, October 5, 2021

[5] Center for Policy Alternatives, June 2021

[6] Colenbrader et al. September 2021