As the rate of our planet’s environmental degradation reaches new highs each day, one form of pollutant in particular has been substantially contributing to the rising pace of global warming. Methane gas, which has the ability to heat the atmosphere in a short period of time, possesses more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. Although CO2 has a prolonged effect on the atmosphere, methane can heat the environment at a faster pace. Due to human actions, almost 25% of the current atmospheric warming is due to the effect of methane gases, and if methane emissions aren’t slowed down, our world will likely succumb to great environmental tragedies. To counter such an issue, this year at the International Climate Summit, also known as COP26, world leaders and international organizations have decided to strike a deal that aims to save our environment from further peril.
Cutting back on methane emissions is one of the most effective things we can do to reduce near-term global warming and keep to 1.5°C.Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President.
COP26: goals, promises, and the way forward to address climate change
During the United Nations Climate Summit held this year in Glasgow, a global understanding of the need to cut methane emission by a substantial amount for the preservation of the environment in the near future was achieved. COP26, which stands for ‘Conference of Parties 26’, is the 26th annual UN Climate Change conference and was held from the 31st of October to the 12th of November 2021. More than 130 heads of state, along with many more government officials, met within the span of two weeks to discuss brand new targets for minimizing emissions that are heating the planet – primarily derived from burning coal, oil, and gas. Over 100 countries participated in this discussion – including Japan, Canada, and the United States – and pledged specifically to reduce the emission of methane gases by a significant amount. This Global Methane Pledge is comprised of statements to reduce the overall global emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030, when compared to that of 2020.
The new push for environmental conservation entails the need for making cuts by dealing with methane leakage from pipelines, oil and gas wells, and many other fossil fuel infrastructures, such as livestock farming and decaying waste in landfill mines. As methane is a short-lived but powerful greenhouse gas, environmental hazards such as this have the ability to continuously contribute to the methane-induced warming of the atmosphere. Traditionally, the topics of discussion during these international Climate Summits have been dominated by the harmful emissions of carbon dioxide, which is responsible for global warming since pre-industrial times. However, the rate at which methane contributes towards global warming has been clearly identified only quite recently – as statistics indicate that the concentration of methane in the atmosphere has risen significantly since the year 2007 – and thus sparked concern among world leaders and scientists, taking on a renewed importance at COP26.
The results of COP26 have once again been mixed. While 15 of the world’s largest contributors of methane took a voluntary pledge to cut emissions – which included countries such as Iraq, Indonesia, and those belonging to the European Union – nations that evidently should have been included in taking this pledge – such as Russia, China, and India – did not volunteer to do so. This would have been a progressive step, as these countries are among those that were reported to have been responsible for numerous fossil fuel infrastructure leakages. Moreover, Australia, a country that was reported for emitting major quantities of methane through local coal mines, was also not included in the climate deal.
What’s so important about COP26?
For many years, the topic of the increasing risk of excess methane in the atmosphere had been ignored and overlooked within the climate conservation discussion. However, scientists and policymakers have recently understood that the need for atmospheric methane reduction has reached a point of urgency.
Even though COP is held only periodically, the need for discussion and opinions on climate mitigation is crucial year-round, as scientists have warned officials and heads of state that, in order to avoid catastrophic impacts due to climate change, a stringent decision and sharp turn away from using fossil fuels and towards sustainable alternatives must be widely implemented. The reason as to why the decisions made at the COP26 Climate Summit this year are important is because the rather risky methane leakage issue has been discussed and put at the frontline of climate issues. Seemingly, if all parties that were included in the discussions would comply with their duties, this excessive atmospheric methane issue would gradually decline within the upcoming years to non-risk levels.
To further elaborate on the urgency of solving this matter, earlier this year the International Energy Agency stated that new exploration of fossil fuel needed to end by the year 2022 in the latest, in order to keep the planet under 1.5 degrees celsius. Moreover, this year another UN body known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a report explaining the ways in which the earth’s atmosphere is rapidly changing and just how serious and risky the threats would eventually get if we do not act now. It is safe to say that the global atmosphere surrounding climate change had never been this intense, especially while going into another Climate Summit. Thus, through hearing many more reports and statements that were issued by scientists and environmental experts such as this, leaders and UN officials thought it would be best if this year’s discussions at COP26 would be centered around this excessive methane catastrophe.
How would the decisions made at COP26 cause an impact?
At a glance, the implemented policies and decisions that were made during the Climate Summit seem rather important. However, comparatively little information has been published on the ways in which these decisions would eventually impact our day-to-day lives moving on.
For starters, the way in which mobility is designed will be subject to changes. The switch to using electric cars would be among a number of changes we should make as soon as possible. Although this has already been implemented at a small scale in many countries, the increased use of electric cars over those of fossil fuels is far from a reality, and stands as a core policy to gradually introduce across the globe.
Along with the use of electric cars comes the inevitable switch to greener alternatives of power usage. Currently, more than 40 countries have agreed to decrease the quantity of coal used, and many have already committed to the idea that clean energy is the best alternative in the long term. An example of a country that has already begun this transition is the United Kingdom, which is continuing to develop its wind and solar renewable energy resources. However, COP26 failed to secure the same commitment by some of the world’s biggest polluters and coal users, such as India. Nevertheless, an agreement made by the US and China, which are the world’s largest CO2 emitters, to cooperate and reduce the emissions over the next decade, along with working on switching to cleaner energy sources, provides hope that these commitments will develop gradually. Through the discussions and announcements made during the conference, the largest global economies have also signaled to the market they will be increasingly investing in clean and renewable energy.
Accordingly, these efforts would require our homes becoming green as well. Environmentally-friendly alternatives such as solar panels and heat pumps may become a new normal in our houses. Moreover, low-carbon alternatives for cement and concrete can be utilized for building more sustainable infrastructure and buildings. One other aspect that would change regarding the way in which infrastructure is developed, is the focus on making sure buildings can withstand extreme weather conditions and any future consequences of harsh climate change. This could mean improving the green space around our households to endure heavy rainfall, along with building roofs that can prevent overheating and reflect sunlight. Evidently, this would all introduce a cleaner and greener future for our planet’s environment, and to say that this has been a long time coming would be an understatement.
There were assumptions that the decisions made during the Summit at Glasgow would have positive rippling effects on society, and this, to some extent, seems to be true. For example, with the phasing out of coal, individuals residing in heavily polluted areas will have cleaner air to breathe and report fewer cases of respiratory diseases. Furthermore, with the increase in financing to protect the livelihoods of locals, an early warning system for floods and storms can be created for smaller islands, which take longer to appear on any radar. One other aspect would be that small crop farmers would receive better and more resilient seeds and crops in order to protect food security. Thus, the way in which the many policies and decisions made during COP26 can eventually impact our lives is fairly clear – if not at this moment then in the months and years to come.
The climate is changing, so should we!
In the meantime, there are many other ways citizens like us can lend a hand. Numerous volunteer and non-profit organizations have stepped up to provide alternative methods for individuals to donate their time and money into helping the environment. Since climate change and environmental pollution have been prevailing issues for some time, many organizations have already come together to help combat the harsh consequences these disasters have left in their wake.
Beyond the United Nations and their subsidiary organizations, that have been initiated to help mitigate the effects of climate change and environmental disasters, there are hundreds of other organizations spanning the globe that are working tirelessly and inclusively to come up with solutions. For example, an organization called 350.org International operates with the goal of keeping the global carbon dioxide level under 350 parts per million, whilst collectively involving individuals from around the world in stopping oil and gas development, along with continuously pushing for 100% renewable energy.
Similarly, a youth-led organization namely, Climate Cardinals International, stands for providing every individual with the correct and basic environmental education. They believe that acquiring the elemental knowledge of our ecosystems and habitats will eventually contribute greatly towards all means of advocacy activity to protect them. Thus, the organization, with the help of its 6000 volunteers, strives to offer environmental education that has been translated into specific native languages – especially for those who do not speak English – which currently has helped over 350,000 individuals residing in more than 40 countries improve their understanding climate change and expand their knowledge on our environment.
Another international organization that has been at the frontline of battling climate change is Extinction Rebellion (XR) International. It is a non-partisan movement that has initiated and pioneered a variety of climate movements. Some of these include: reaching net-zero emissions by the year 2025, demanding that governments declare climate emergencies, and involving citizens in climate decision-making process. They use a method of nonviolent action and civil disobedience to get their points on climate urgency across, and due to XR possessing a decentralized leadership, anyone in the world can organize climate action forces under their guidelines to help communicate environmental urgency.
The aforementioned organizations are only a handful of many groups of dedicated individuals that strive each day to decrease the adverse effects of climate change. By raising awareness oF organizations such as these, we not only support what they stand for but encourage other individuals to expand their knowledge on such initiatives. It important that we, as a community, encourage younger individuals to support these projects as well – as it will be future generations that will help sustain our planet’s environment.
Youth-led organizations which push for youth involvement in environmental and climate change advocacy activities will be the r+prime driving forces of environmental advocacy in coming decades. By supporting these initiatives and expanding our knowledge on the current trends of climate change, we as a global community, however small the task, can collectively contribute to minimizing the consequences of climate change and decreasing the carbon footprint on our earth’s surface.
IVolunteer International is a 501(c)3 tech-nonprofit registered in the United States with operations worldwide. Using a location-based mobile application, we mobilize volunteers to take action in their local communities. Our vision is creating 7-billion volunteers. We are an internationally recognized nonprofit organization and is also a Civil Society Associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications. Visit our profiles on Guidestar, Greatnonprofits, and FastForward.