Oil and Gas in a 1.5 C World

November 11, 2021

I’m sitting in my cabin watching the sun set over the Ottawa Valley. It isn’t the most spectacular sunset ever, but it is quiet and beautiful, soft and predictable, contemplative and nourishing.

I had meant to come down here much earlier, but with COP26 set to wrap up over the next couple of days, there were briefings and announcements and check-ins to attend to. And it feels pretty perfect that I’m here now.

The questions now on everyone’s mind are: how will this end? Will the outcomes of COP26 be worthy of celebration? And (perhaps more so for those of us with the privilege of stepping away from the chaos of the event), where do we go from here?

I know that in the lifecycle of a COP, 24-48 hours is a significant period of time, so it may be premature to start drawing conclusions. Still, I’m going to take that chance.

I’ve had the benefit these last two weeks of hearing the perspectives of those on the ground in Glasgow, our FLC delegation that has participated virtually in COP26, and others here in Canada that have been following deliberations through the media (social and otherwise).

In this moment, though I’m far more tired and contemplative, I’m actually feeling a lot like I did on the eve of COP26. At the For the Love of Creation Fall Symposium on October 30, I reflected that over the course of 2021 we’ve seen a rather remarkable level of movement in Canadian climate policy: an increased emissions reduction target, the doubling of international climate finance, and passage of both climate accountability and Indigenous rights legislation. And, I noted, the ambition and action being taken is nowhere near what it needs to be.

My assessment of COP26 is quite similar. With our eyes set on a just, 1.5 C world off on the horizon, it can be easy to be consumed by the vast gap that lies between that aspiration, and the pageantry and pledges of the last 12 days. There has indeed been a notable lack of urgency in political pronouncements. Follow-through on all existing promises and pledges would still have us experiencing a global temperature rise of 2.4 C. Global North governments have yet to take responsibility for historic and ongoing emissions, leaving those in the Global South without the necessary resources to effectively mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

So what has been achieved?

A lot has been said: on land use and deforestation, funding for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, private sector finance, balancing governmental climate finance between mitigation and adaptation, gender, renewable energy, youth engagement, nature-based solutions, Indigenous rights, global solidarity, and so much more.

The item in which I find the most promise, however, is the discussion of fossil fuels.

Yesterday, for the first time in history, “fossil fuels” were named in the (draft) decision text of a UN climate conference. That this is so, is as stunning to me as it is significant, representing a long-overdue acknowledgement of fossil fuels as contributors to the climate crisis. We, along with colleagues in Climate Action Network Canada, have written to Steven Guilbeault, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change encouraging him to ensure that this text remains in the final declaration. (Please amplify this call!)

Also, earlier today, the governments of Denmark and Costa Rica also launched the “Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance” (BOGA) which aims to orchestrate a managed phase out of oil and gas production around the world. This will be done first by disallowing any new oil and gas licensing, and ultimately setting “a Paris-aligned date for ending oil and gas production.” In announcing the initiative, Denmark’s climate and energy minister, Dan Jorgensen, stated that “there is no place for oil and gas in a 1.5 C world.” So true. Perhaps not surprisingly, the world’s largest oil and gas producing nations were not among the eight “core” members at the alliance’s launch (Quebec was). Still, that BOGA has been launched at all is significant in finally naming the need to address the supply of oil and gas globally. This is progress worthy of celebration!

Darkness has now fallen on a crisp fall day in west Quebec, but not before the sun, at first so subdued as it hung on the late afternoon horizon, shifted to a brilliant splash of pink dancing against a darkening blue sky.

I don’t have the words to adequately express the poetry and the encouragement of that shift, but I know that I feel better now. It’s not that I believe that the outcomes of COP will also suddenly shift into alignment with 1.5, but rather I have a quiet confidence that the needle has moved just enough to inspire continued engagement, and that soon, we will indeed reach the target on the horizon.

 

Karri Munn-Venn, senior policy analyst for Citizens for Public Justice and Advocacy chair of the For the Love of Creation, is a member of the joint United Church of Canada and For the Love of Creation virtual delegation to COP26,the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

You can follow the delegation #UCCanCOP26 and #FLCCOP26 and check back here for personal reflections from the delegates in the coming days.