Climate change and COVID-19 are two calamities clashing this November in Scotland.
The Conference of Parties COP, with some 20,000 representatives from 199 countries are meeting for the 26th time to commit to climate change goals. At the same time COVID-19 is raging.
I was eagerly looking forward to attending the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, but, to my dismay, I canceled all my bookings. COVID-19 is currently raging in Scotland, reporting almost 7,000 cases a day in a country the size of South Carolina. The advice of the CDC and the US State Department is to not travel to the UK.
The UN has sponsored global climate change meetings for over 30 years. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization. The IPCC has 195 Member countries. Since 1999, the UN has sponsored in-person meetings every five years in cities around the world to address climate change on a global scale. Some of the results from these meetings are:
• The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
• The Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC
• The Kyoto Protocol
• The Bonn Agreements
• The Delhi Ministerial Declaration
• The last COP21 event resulted in the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, adopted by 196 Parties at COP21 in Paris on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
The next meeting, COP26, takes place at a crucial point for climate change pledges.
According to the UN ‘Sixth Assessment Report’ on climate change, a report prepared by 234 scientists from 66 countries, “human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2,000 years.”
“Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Scientist are also observing changes across the whole of Earth’s climate system; in the atmosphere, in the oceans, ice floes, and on land,” the report states. “Many of these changes are unprecedented, and some of the shifts are in motion now, while some—such as continued sea level rise—are already ‘irreversible’ for centuries to millennia, ahead, the report warns.”
As the quote goes: “Tomorrow is today.” There is no more time to delay.
For COP26, the UK promised to deliver vaccines to people from what they define as ‘red’ countries (where COVID is out of control and vaccines are not available), but the promise seems to have petered out to a pass. They are now relaxing the rules for getting vaccinated and isolating themselves in government-approved hotels. Greta Thunberg has canceled attending because people from countries most affected by COVID are also the countries most affected by climate change, and they are not getting the vaccines they need so they cannot attend this meeting. That said, the COP26 was canceled in 2020 due to COVID. The pressure is on having solid negotiations, and the sense is that these need to occur in person.
This clash of emergencies shows that we need to start taking care of business on global health and public health fronts. Climate change is a global emergency at a scale we have never experienced. Reducing carbon output is critical to us all. There must be “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) across the globe where we all share in reducing carbon output to achieve net-zero carbon output by 2050. These negotiations are best done in person. Just not this person. I will continue to report the results of this meeting, however.
Two things strike me about all of this. The scale of the public health problem created by COVID is daunting with almost 5,000,000 deaths in two years. This is like never before and it is horrifying. At the same time, 199 countries are working together in peaceful ways toward a single goal: mitigating climate change. When has that ever happened in history? This too is like never before and holds tremendous promise.