Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist and chief scientist of Nature United’s global affiliate. She is the author of Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World.
This month, world leaders assembled in Glasgow for COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. So too did activists, business leaders, Indigenous representatives, celebrities, scientists and people from all walks of life. We were there because of an issue that affects every living thing on this planet: climate change.
It affects the food we eat, the air we breathe and the water we rely on. It imperils the safety of our homes, the robustness of our economies, the security of our borders and the well-being of everyone who calls this planet home.
It’s loading the weather dice against us, making many of our extreme weather events more frequent and more deadly. This year alone, climate change amplified the devastating heat waves and wildfires across Western Canada, record-breaking drought in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and now the terrible floods in British Columbia.
Our future depends on the choices we make. The more carbon we produce, the more warming will occur and the greater the harm. This harm falls on all of us – but disproportionately on those who have done the least to contribute to the problem. The wealthiest half of the world is responsible for 93 per cent of the world’s emissions, yet the poorest are bearing the brunt of the consequences.
Addressing these risks and inequities was the goal of the Paris Agreement, which was signed at COP21 in 2015. Countries agreed to keep global average temperatures to below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels – below 1.5 degrees, if at all possible – to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The agreement also established the Green Climate Fund, so high-emitting countries such as Canada can provide support for less wealthy countries to reduce their own emissions and to adapt.
The goal of COP26, then, was to ratchet up what countries had promised in the Paris Agreement. Before Glasgow, Canada had only contributed 40 per cent of its commitment for this year to the Green Climate Fund; globally, current emission-reduction promises were expected to only keep warming below 2.7 C.
New commitments made at COP26 for 2030, if fulfilled, will keep warming to 2.4 degrees. It could be limited to about 1.8 degrees if countries achieve the net-zero goals they’ve set past 2030 – and while that still misses the goal of 1.5 degrees, it’s a significant improvement over where we were only a few weeks ago. It would also mark the first time the world has been on a trajectory to meet the Paris target.
Now, it’s time to turn promises into action. At COP26, the Canadian government promised to increase investments in communities to transition from coal-powered electricity to clean power. Canada also promised a cap on emissions from the oil and gas sector by 2050 and increased support for the Green Climate Fund.
As we act on climate, listening to and providing increased support for Indigenous peoples is critical, too. Globally, their stewardship has been shown to yield greater conservation results and sustain more biodiversity than government-protected areas. Indigenous Guardians programs in Canada need more funding, and Indigenous Protected Areas are a powerful way to achieve the national commitment of protecting 30 per cent of Canada’s lands by 2030.
It’s also essential to recognize and support the potential of nature-based solutions. In Canada, they can reduce our current emissions by as much as 11 per cent a year by 2030, according to research led by Nature United. These solutions include planting trees and restoring coastlines, as well as climate-smart agricultural practices such as no-till farming and managing grazing and nutrient runoff. Regenerative agriculture improves people’s lives and livelihoods while increasing the ability of farms and ranches to sequester carbon.
Almost every day, I’m asked: “What gives you hope?” In Glasgow, I saw grandparents, parents and children marching for cleaner water and healthier air. I heard from farmers working to make their pastures and flocks more sustainable and profitable. I met with representatives from low-lying island nations worried about more intense hurricanes, warmer oceans and rising seas. I spoke with artists and students, Rotarians and faith leaders, all of whom had come to Glasgow in hope, and to call for action.
They came because they knew that if we wait for hope, we’ll never find it. If we wait for someone else to fix the problem, we’ll never solve it. But when we raise our voices to call for change, when we take action together – that’s when we find that hope is all around us.
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