A crucial moment for global public health: The November climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland

RNAO participates in the global movement of health organizations and workers who understand that climate change is the largest public health emergency the world has ever faced, and who are pushing politicians and governments to take emergency action at the upcoming COP26 conference in Glasgow. The following is a segment from an October 15 CBC News backgrounder article on COP26 by Tesa Arcilla.

"A turning point for humanity."

That's what the upcoming COP26 climate summit will be, at least according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who made the statement in a recent address to the United Nations General Assembly. As the U.K. gets ready to host this year's conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Johnson has called on world leaders to "recognize the scale of the challenge we face" on climate issues.

This past summer, much of the Northern Hemisphere was battered by a succession of record-breaking natural disasters, from severe heat waves in North America to deadly flooding in parts of western Europe, India and China to uncontrollable wildfires in the Mediterranean.

The latest report by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Earth was heating faster than previously thought, calling it "code red for humanity."

What is COP26?

Every year since 1995, the UN has brought together nearly every country in the world to address climate change at what is called the Conference of Parties (COP). Simply put, it's the biggest, most important climate conference on the planet, and COP26 has been hailed as "the world's best last chance" to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis.

Last year marked the 26th year of COP, but the global pandemic delayed the gathering, so it is taking place this year from Nov. 1 to 12. It will bring together more than 20,000 participants in Glasgow, including heads of state, negotiators, climate experts, business leaders and citizens.

COP26 is seen as the important follow-up to COP21, held in Paris in December 2015, which gave birth to the Paris Agreement.

Why is the Paris Agreement important?

Under the Paris Agreement, each nation committed to setting out a plan to reduce their carbon emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Countries also agreed to update their NDCs every five years to reflect the most ambitious and achievable target at that time.

COP26 is the first time since Paris that countries will have to present their updated NDCs. Canada's updated NDC is reducing emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, an upgrade on the original pledge to cut emissions by 30 per cent by 2030.

COP26 has four key aims:

  • Secure global commitments to net zero emissions by 2050 and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, specifically by taking measures like phasing out coal, switching to electric vehicles and stopping deforestation.
  • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.
  • Mobilize finance to make good on the promise to pool at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.
  • Work together to deliver on these goals.

How far is the world from reaching its climate targets? Still quite far. Critics have warned that current updated national pledges to reduce carbon emissions will miss climate targets by a long shot. According to an expert analyst, "At the moment, we're only 15 per cent closer than we were two years ago to being on track for 1.5 degrees if no more NDC revisions are made ahead of the Glasgow summit."

Read the remaining of the CBC News backgrounder on COP26 here.