UBC Sustainability hosts talk with climate experts ahead of COP26 conference

UBC Sustainability hosted a webinar Wednesday night featuring a number of esteemed environmentalists, welcoming hundreds of students.

The event — which was called ‘What’s at Stake?’ — was a discussion on Canada’s climate goals and climate deficits as part of the leadup to the 26 Conference of the Parties (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, Scotland this week.

The discussion featured presentations from former Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May, Sierra Club of BC Climate justice lead Anjali Appadurai, environmental lawyer and activist Andrew Gage and UBC atmospheric scientist Dr. Rachel White. Linda Nowlan, senior director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative, moderated the discussion.

Climate change inequality was a theme throughout the entire lineup of speakers, starting with the a land acknowledgment by Musqueam Elder Larry Grant, who spoke of the disproportionate effects of climate change experienced by Indigenous communities around the world.

Gage spoke first, bringing up his experiences with past COP conferences, including the 2013 COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, in which the majority of delegations from developing countries walked out of the conference to protest the prioritization of wealthier nations in decision-making.

White highlighted how wealthy countries can afford to centre climate policy around a two degree celsius target while poorer countries are typically more vulnerable and would be better served by these more ambitious goals.

May echoed White’s comments, adding that she believes countries have been moving in the wrong direction on this matter. She called for international climate frameworks to include punitive measures for countries that do not comply with terms.

Appadurai said that methods of dividing responsibility for climate action should be based on equity rather than evenness. These principles include historical responsibility for climate change, national capability to act and per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

Appadurai also argued that COP26’s structure is inherently inequitable, with a lack of COVID-19 vaccine access preventing many delegates from developing countries from attending.

In terms of future actions, the speakers each gave unique answers.

Gage said that people should sue petroleum producers to be compensated for the damage caused by climate change, while Appadurai stressed the necessity of youth grassroots activism in influencing countries to improve their climate equity practices.

May called on other countries to peer pressure Canada into following its climate commitments at the COP26 conference, which she feels is the only route to proper Canadian climate policy.

COP26 started this week, and each of the guests are involved in some capacity. The hope among event organizers is that their ideas will be applied to Canada’s climate framework going forward.