Talk is Cheap at COP26

By Heidi Harmon, Let’s Green CA! Senior Director of Public Affairs

Ahead of COP26, a group called Scientist Rebellion leaked a portion of the latest IPCC assessment report. The report isn’t due for official release until 2022. The scientists “leaked the report because governments... have edited the conclusions before official reports were released in the past,” they said. Another recent leak to BBC News showed those concerns are well-founded. I want to salute these scientists’ bravery and encourage you to read through the content for yourself. Here’s my bottom line from more than 100 pages of leaked IPCC documents: talk is cheap. That’s the framing with which we should examine COP26.


According to IPCC authors, nations are neither living up to their emission reduction pledges under the Paris Agreement, nor are their pledges consistent with a world that warms by less than two degrees Celcius. I can certainly see why the IPCC didn’t want to release this report until after COP26! The IPCC further found that GHG emissions in 2018 were higher than at any point in human history, though growth in GHG emissions is slowing. But what we really need right now is for emissions to drastically decline; we’re moving in entirely the wrong direction. The IPCC also noted large expansions in GHG-intensive activities. During the period 2010-2020, aviation increased by 28.5%, the use of SUVs increased by 17%, and meat consumption increased by 12%.

Reading through the leaked documents, it’s clear that we’re on track to blow past 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming (the Paris Climate Agreement aimed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees; the Earth has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius.) In fact, a new Washington Post report found that we’re on track to warm the planet by a catastrophic 2.5 degrees Celsius. And that’s not all, “despite a flurry of new commitments to zero out emissions, the projected level of warming by the end of the century is only about 0.1 degrees lower than before COP26 started,” Washington Post reporters Sarah Kaplan and Michael Birnbaum wrote. Friends, that level of warming will make our Earth unrecognizable and inhospitable to human life in many regions.

This is difficult information to take. After reading the leaked documents, I immediately thought of Greta Thunberg’s words: “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders. Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises.” She’s right. And we simply cannot afford any more empty promises.


Greta Thunberg and Tokata Iron Eyes at Standing Rock

We’re now close to the end of COP26, and we’ve certainly heard a number of promises: a pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030; a pledge to end deforestation by 2030; a pledge from investors, bankers and insurers to hit net zero in their $130 trillion worth of investments by 2050. None of us can say whether those promises will be honored or not, and frankly, we don’t have time to wait and see.

Amongst the frightening projections from the IPCC, I did find a heartening note in the documents. “People act and contribute to climate change mitigation as consumers, role models, citizens, investors, and professionals. In all roles, individuals can contribute to overcoming barriers and enable climate change mitigation,” they wrote.

The power is in our hands; even the IPCC can see it. And that’s the concept behind the legislation our team will introduce in the California State Legislature in 2022. The Electrify California framework aims to equitably electrify California utilizing financial incentives, strong labor standards, and investments in communities on the frontlines of climate change. Together, we can electrify all new cars and home appliances by 2030. Together, we can create a future in which every tool we use in our daily lives, like our cars and home heating and cooling appliances, are all fossil fuel-free within the next decade. Seriously: it’s entirely doable.

I won’t deny that I’m disappointed by COP26. It’s clear that top-down approaches to climate action, like those on display at COP26, simply don’t work. So we must implement a new model, one that puts the power in our hands.

I’ll share more information about our campaign to equitably electrify California soon: I cannot wait to work with you.