'Who is responsible for what?': Two UBC COP26 delegates express disappointment from world climate summit

The UBC Environmental Policy Association hosted an online webinar on Wednesday afternoon to debrief the UN Conference of Parties (COP26) climate summit featuring two delegates from UBC who attended the conference in Glasgow.

COP26 — which ran from October 31 to November 12 — was centred around addressing the targets outlined in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords and the steps to its implementation. UBC sent a delegation of eight students, faculty and staff to the conference.

Max Cohen and Temitope Onifade fielded questions from attendees on a wide variety of climate-related issues ranging from emission targets to fuel subsidies, as well as the specific role that Canada plays in the fight against climate change.

Onifade is a lawyer pursuing a PhD in law at the Peter Allard School whose research centres around climate policy. His main goals at COP26 were to learn more about climate law and justice under the Paris Agreement and to share his knowledge about Canada’s climate governance.

Cohen is a PhD geography student in whose research focuses on just transition policies, a framework to ensure that workers are not left behind during the transition to more sustainable energy sources. A Glasgow native, Cohen was especially interested in how the conference affected the city and how locals were included in the process.

Environmental Justice

The panel remarked that COP26 was underwhelming in many aspects, including being one of the most exclusionary conferences to date with many countries from the Global South unable to attend due to logistical issues, COVID-19-related reasons and economic barriers.

Cohen adds that the quality of the conference was also marred by the large number of fossil fuel lobbyists and media in attendance.

“The UK Government right now is very committed to public relations rather than these policies. A lot of the journalists who were included were people without really the expertise but could sort of just parrot the line of what politicians [were saying],” Cohen said.

Onifade noted his disappointment over how developed countries did very little to address losses and damages already incurred through adverse climate change events.

“[The draft text] doesn’t say much about loss and damage,” he said. “How do we get funds? Who is responsible for what?”

“Whatever way we reduce emissions, there will be winners and there will be losers. Just setting targets and saying we’ll reduce emissions, doesn’t tell us a lot about who wins and who loses.”

Despite environmental justice being a major theme throughout the conference, Onifade felt that it wasn’t emphasized enough within the scope of Canadian issues.

“The face of environmental justice — or injustice — in Canada was actually relegated … There are unique issues of Indigenous peoples even in developed countries in [other] places like Canada … I thought that Canada would have been in a fantastic place to bring such issues up.”

“It started to become apparent how little was going to be achieved in the agreement and there was sort of a somber atmosphere … in the last few days,” said Cohen.

Fuel Subsidies

Cohen stressed that there needs to be a thorough examination of the business model that fossil fuel companies run on and what their justifications for subsidies are.

Cohen also expressed frustration that trillions of public tax-payer dollars worldwide in fossil fuel subsidies are lining the pockets of CEOs and shareholders, money and resources that could have gone towards jobs in sustainable energy sectors.

One positive development, noted Cohen, is the new Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, an alliance of 11 countries that have committed to setting an end date on fossil fuel exploration.

With respect to other Canadian developments, Onifade shared that he was happy with the strides that Canada was making towards being a global leader in climate action. This includes a partnership with Germany in the Climate Finance Delivery Plan, as well as Canada’s role in championing carbon pricing models.

Onifade made it clear that Canada still has a lot of potential.

“Canada could be a superstar if Canada addressed loss and damage. That would cement Canada as an international climate finance leader.”