Monmouth Faculty Travel to The United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change

Tony MacDonald, Director of the Urban Coast Institute (UCI), and Randall Abate, Rechnitz Family/UCI Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy, travelled to Glasgow, Scotland to participate as observers in the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26). The conference began on Nov. 1 and will conclude on Nov. 12.

MacDonald and Abate arrived in Glasgow on Nov. 2 and have since been providing updates to the UCI Trip Journal blog to document their experiences at COP26. They were among 40,000 diplomats, heads of state, observers, and activists participating in the summit. COP26 was Abate’s first time attending a COP event, but MacDonald had previously attended COP21 in Paris in 2015 as an observer in the “Green Zone” for civil society participants.

MacDonald described their role as observers at COP26 in an interview with NJ Spotlight News, explaining the conference’s interest in getting the expertise of civil society centers through the observer framework. “One component of COP26 is the high-level diplomatic negotiations, where the delegations from the member states will actually negotiate language in the treaty. As observers, we’re able to attend what are called the Blue Zone sessions, which are discussions of those inputs,” said MacDonald.

In an update posted to the UCI Trip Journal, Abate described COP26 as embodying “a clash of hope and despair in confronting the global climate crisis,” noting many of the issues concerning the disproportionate burdens of the global climate crisis that fall on marginalized populations. Sources of hope include the United States’ return to the negotiations and subsequent assumption of leadership following former President Trump’s decision to pull the nation from the Paris Agreement in 2017, as well as more active and engaged participation from the private sector in achieving “net zero” carbon goals.

Although the U.S. has returned to the climate negotiation scene, Abate noted how participation from the global South has been limited as a consequence of the financial and logistical challenges of the pandemic. COVID-19 protocols have also limited room capacity for those able to attend in Glasgow, and there have been a plethora of technological glitches for those attending virtually that have further limited participation from nations that could not be there in person.

Abate also discussed how the goal of climate finance at $100 billion per year was a major topic of discussion at this year’s negotiations, its implementation serving as a key to the success of COP26. Yet, past shortcomings in such climate solutions leave him feeling skeptical.

“This pledge of support from developed countries to developing countries for climate mitigation and adaptation that was made in 2009 in Copenhagen has not yet been fulfilled,” wrote Abate. “Even if those pledges are made at COP26, pledges are only words until the funds are delivered, which has been a problem with some past pledges from developed nations.”

Although the U.S. has made progress in the field of climate solutions and President Biden has good intentions, Abate noted that they will matter much more when they are backed by concrete actions.

“Many countries have not fulfilled the emission reduction commitments they made at Paris in 2015. Therefore, COP26 is a day of reckoning to get on track toward even more ambitious goals,” explained Abate. “Based on the current state of compliance with Paris Agreement targets, a UNFCCC Secretariat report from July 2021 found that global greenhouse gas emissions are on track to increase by 16 percent by 2030, instead of the 45 percent decrease needed.”

MacDonald cited the growing importance of youth and indigenous activism on climate change in his interview with NJ Spotlight News. “I do think the additional voices of indigenous communities and youth and others have really added up the volume considerably. The significance of this has been a recognition that this is a generational problem — our responsibility to the next generation and the one after that has fundamentally changed.”

Abate also mentioned the growing need for youth involvement in addressing climate issues. “Efforts to address climate change simply should not be undertaken without a structured process to reflect youth participation and consent— after all, it’s their future at stake,” he wrote. “Youth climate activism needs a rapid trajectory like the LGBTQ+ movement to gain a foothold in securing the protection of their interests because there is very little time remaining to get this right.”

Past COP events and other negotiations have relied largely on individual accountability for climate change, allowing the corporations and governments truly responsible for climate change to deflect their contributions. MacDonald and Abate both noted that COP26 has demonstrated a shift in beliefs regarding responsibility for climate change.

“The public-interest sector is really pushing the accountability effort against the fossil fuel industry and factory farms, because they are such significant contributors to our national greenhouse gas footprint,” said Abate.

“The reality is the corporate sector has really avoided some of those long-term impacts of their actions,” added MacDonald. He noted that this avoidance of responsibility has become less feasible as individuals, especially new youth participants, have begun to realize the disproportionate levels of accountability that have been placed on them. COP26 represents a change in this mindset, which will be significant in addressing climate change moving forward.

Abate noted that a lack of urgency in addressing climate change has been the worst issue faced in devising climate solutions. “The house has been on fire on our planet for several years now, yet we still are not embracing the emergency,” he wrote.