5 Actions That Should Happen at COP26

By Adrienne L. Hollis, PhD, JD — Chisholm Legacy Project Advisory Committee

I will be attending COP26 this year. It is my first attendance at a COP event. More information on the COP can be found on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC)’s webpage. Suffice it to say that this is where the important work to stem anthropogenic climate change is done and where decisions are made on actions and implementation to protect people and the planet.

This blog was written before I left the US and arrived in Scotland. Here, I briefly list what actions I expect out of the COP. I will regularly blog to see how far off my expectations are.

5 actions that should happen at COP26 to really begin to address disparities, fueled by climate change

(1) Provide more vaccines to countries lacking access to them and as a result, have extremely low vaccination rates. According to data reported on Our World in Data, less than half (49.3%) of the world population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, 7 billion doses have been administered globally, and 24.08 million are now administered each day. Interestingly, the lowest vaccination rate is among people in low income countries where only 3.5% of people have received at least one dose. This is reminiscent of the pattern seen here in the United States, where, according to Money.com, the states with higher incomes almost always have higher vaccination rates, while the poorer states are at the lower end of the spectrum for COVID-19 vaccinations. If income is one reason that people are not vaccinated at higher rates, does it really matter that Moderna has agreed to supply 500 million doses at its “lowest-tiered price”? Especially since most won’t be available until 2022. Poor is poor – in any Country. This smacks of structural racism’s stranglehold on society, and how the effects of historic racist practices have continued ramifications today! Let’s just get it done NOW.

The good news is that the Biden Administration has developed a strategy for global vaccine sharing, and as of August, has donated over 100 million doses. Six vaccines have been given “emergency use authorisation” by the World Health Organization, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen, Moderna, Sinopharm and Sinovac. However, only Pfizer and AstraZeneca doses have been delivered so far. While I am not a vaccine expert, I am only familiar with Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (which is not on the list). It looks like Pfizer and AstraZeneca are the most far-reaching vaccines, according to this graph from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-55795297

Before you ask, YES – it is the responsibility of first world countries to look out for other countries, those that suffer most from climate change and health related issues, but contribute the least to conditions that lead to climate change.

Interestingly enough, as I write this blog, I note that today (October 30th) the G20 leaders – the World’s 20 biggest economies- have endorsed a tax deal and pledge more vaccines for the poor. That makes me feel slightly more hopeful.

(2) Agree to identify and address issues that are imperative for communities and countries around the world. To do this, COP26 needs to make a deliberate effort to engage in serious dialogue with attendees – not the delegates, the people, the citizens of the various countries in attendance. For poor people, people of color, Indigenous Peoples and others, vaccinations rank behind issues like food scarcity, livable wages, climate and forced migration, extreme weather events, violence, poverty and just surviving at a time when voices of those who suffer the most have largely been ignored.

  • Action on Climate and SDGs
  • Adaptation and resilience
  • Capacity-building
  • Climate Finance
  • Climate Technology
  • Education & Youth
  • Gender
  • Global Stocktake
  • Innovation
  • Land Use
  • Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform
  • Mitigation
  • Pre-2020 Ambition and Implementation
  • Science

Even though the UNFCCC topic areas look like they are all encompassing (see above), whose topic areas are these? Did they include input from people struggling every day in suboptimal conditions? We need clear take home actionable results from discussions on not only the issue areas listed on the UNFCCC website, but issues that people struggle with daily. Also, I would add, in large letters, MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, because people are truly struggling.

(3) Agree to focus on and address environmental and climate justice issues. These two overarching issues play an important role when addressing any of the UNFCCC issues identified above and more. Agree to immediately respond when ANY country suffers devastating loss, whether it is from a naturally-occurring or man-made event. Examples include the incredible damage of and need for assistance in Puerto Rico after hurricanes, in Haiti after the earthquakes, in areas around the world that suffer from devastating wildfires, and in areas where food and water shortages occur, or the water is contaminated and people have been without drinkable water for years.

(4) Formally acknowledge the importance and the value of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and community science. TEK refers to that knowledge held or hundreds or thousands of years by indigenous and local peoples, through direct interaction with the environment. TEK is vital to addressing the assaults and damage to Mother Earth, and provides us with roadmaps to protect both people and the planet. Community science – formerly citizen science – is also based on the historical knowledge of people. Don’t just give ‘Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples’ a platform (see UNFCCC Platform issues above), give them a seat at THE table. Make TEK and CS an integral part of all decision-making.

(5) Focus on Health

(6) As I mentioned in #1 above, systemic racism plays a pivotal role in where we are as a global entity today. In the impactful words of Ta-Nehisi Coates, “An America that looks away is ignoring not just the sins of the past but the sins of the present and the certain sins of the future.” I submit that a World that looks away is doing the same.

I expect a lot from COP26, more than I have listed here! I believe it starts with focusing on those disproportionately affected by climate change, injustices and poverty. To be clear, I will continually blog about what I am hearing and learning while I hope for the absolute best outcomes for our World.

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