The BHSI’s COP26 Summit

To better understand the U.N.’s Climate Summit in Glasgow, the BHSI had its own Mini Climate Summit. Read on to learn more about both the real summit and the club’s mock one.

by Nora Lowe

The issue of the climate crisis transcends nationality. 

Recognizing this, many of the world’s nations recently gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the annual United Nations Climate Conference (COP26). It was conducted between Sunday, October 31, and Friday, November 12. However, climate jargon and politics can make this summit difficult to digest. So, what exactly is COP26? 

According to the Financial Times, here is what you need to know:

  1. COP stands for Conference of the Parties.
  2. Representatives from more than 200 countries gather at this event.
  3. The objective of the event is for these negotiators to create an outline, or action plan, that delineates what their next steps will be in order to achieve their climate goals.

One victorious moment for the COP attendees in 2016 was signing the Paris Climate Accord, which entailed a pledge to limit global warming to 1.5 °C, particularly by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and weaning the world off of coal usage.

However, since their genesis in 1995, the conferences have not been free from turmoil, especially as countries from different socioeconomic standings clash over who ought to shoulder the most responsibility or expense. After all, decarbonizing the world’s economy will cost trillions of dollars (Forbes). 

In order to understand the nuance of these negotiations, the Byram Hills Sustainability Initiative (BHSI) decided to have its own Mini Climate Summit. This article highlights some points from this simulation, but if you’d like to follow along in full, click here to access the minutes from this meeting (the format of the BHSI simulation was adapted from Ms. Joanna Lewick’s Model United Nations Club guidelines).

To begin, the BHSI members were divided into groups, each representing a country. Countries from a range of different sustainability success levels were selected: The Gambia, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., India, Germany, Costa Rica, and Japan. Next, participants used The Climate Action Tracker to research the countries in question, which ranged from “critically insufficient” to “1.5 oC Paris Agreement Compatible.” Interestingly, at the time of the Mini Climate Summit last week, The Gambia was considered to be 1.5 oC Paris Agreement Compatible, but has now been demoted on the tracker to “almost sufficient.”

Representing the U.S. in this activity, Ms. Bogren reminded the club members that “coal is an incredibly inexpensive way to provide power. It’s also incredibly dirty.” This sparked a conversation about the viability of renewable energy. For example, senior Jane Zeltner, who represented Costa Rica during this simulation, shared that “Costa Rica has been producing a lot of renewable energy, and they’ve been able to sell some of it to other parts of the world, so that could be an interesting way for countries with greater access to renewable electricity to provide some of it to other countries.” 

Then, the conversation was redirected to the importance of transitioning to renewable energies in a way that doesn’t harm frontline communities (these are vulnerable groups that tend to experience the consequences of climate change first. They are frequently low-income communities of color). For example, gas moratoria could be disastrous in some places. Speaking to this idea, junior Madison Lee said, for instance, “not everyone can afford an electric car, and the ones that use gas are obviously cheaper.” Hypothetically, she continued, “if we were to increase the price of the gas car and lower the price of the electric…more people could afford to use the electric.” This portion of the conversation concluded with the thought that a fuel tax subsidy for electric vehicles might be helpful.

Next, the conversation touched upon a new question: does a country’s form of government influence their climate action, and is a certain government type (e.g. democracy) more conducive to productive green legislation? Junior Sydney Black shared her thoughts: “Democracies trying to implement these plans have issues actually getting them passed.” She continued, “Nancy Pelosi was talking about ‘Build Back Better’ and how this probably cannot get through the Senate.” The issue of fierce partisanship is certainly worth considering as an obstacle to progress in democracies. Making sure we depoliticize the science will be key to mediating this issue.

In the end, the BHSI’s Mini Climate Summit truly embodied the idea of thinking globally while acting locally. Local action is essential, and complementing it with an understanding of current global affairs is essential as well.