I have been back in Missoula for a week now - getting re-settled at home and watching the happenings in Glasgow at the COP26 climate meetings with great interest. It is disappointing not to be there in person, but there are a number of great reporting and online participation venues. Below are some of the COP26 take-aways I have so far, and connections to stories and experiences from the Climate Courage Tour.
Much of the diplomatic action happened before any negotiators set foot in Scotland. In the run-up to the COP26, the U.S. committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050. China says they will do so by 2060. At the conference, India surprised many by committing to a 2070 date for full decarbonization. Many other countries have made similar pledges, such that now 85% of the world’s current carbon emissions should be eliminated by mid-century. The New York Times (Here and Here) has some excellent illustrations of national commitments in relation to the scientific consensus on necessary carbon cuts.
How does the Western U.S. matter to this international picture? Well, all of the states I pedaled through, except Wyoming, have greenhouse gas targets. You can see the summaries of their pledges below, or on this interactive map. Similar to the national pledges, there is little beyond political pressure holding the states to these commitments. But, as I saw on my ride, the political pressure on leaders to act is increasing...
ACTIVISM! Greta Thunberg and a host of climate activists have definitely made their voices heard in Glasgow. Protests have featured female speakers and activists from the “Global South” countries who are facing the toughest challenges from climate change - and who have benefitted least from the exploitation of fossil fuels. Many rural and poor areas have borne the harshest impacts of fossil fuel extraction and processing as well.
Those inequities also occur within countries. In the Western U.S. I saw the impacts of drought, fire, and storms strongly affecting Native American communities and lower-income areas. Overall, when people live close to the land and don’t make much money a climate disaster can easily push them over the edge in many ways. That may help get places like the rural West involved in fighting climate change. Northern Plains Resource Council and Rural Voices for Conservation are leading organizations here.
Other notable happenings include:
METHANE: A much-trumpeted outcome of the COP26 meetings is an agreement on methane emissions. Methane contributes 30% of current temperature rise, and is (relatively) easy to reduce and contain. This is a pretty big deal and “the lowest of the low-hanging fruit” in mitigating greenhouse gasses. When I met the Lander Climate Action Network in Wyoming, they introduced me to a young man who works for the State regulating oil and gas wells. Many of his contacts at those operations candidly told him that it would be “easy and cost almost nothing” to reduce methane leaks by 75%. Keep reading to see how this can be enforced...
SATELLITES SAVE? Al Gore announced a big advance in satellite monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions. Firms like GHGSat and groups like the Environmental Defense Fund are launching satellites that pinpoint carbon dioxide and methane emissions. Gore's Climate TRACE project is combining many data streams to make real-time emissions data widely available. This will hopefully replace the opaque voluntary emissions reports from countries and industries, and that will make progress (or its lack) on the climate commitments at COP26 much clearer.
‘BYE COAL More than 40 countries, including several of the largest users, have committed to stop using coal and/or to stop financing coal development. This is a crucial global issue, and it will reverberate strongly in the West. Canada may stop all exports of thermal (power generating) coal from its ports. That would dramatically affect some mines in Montana, such as Signal Peak north of Billings and Spring Creek hear the Wyoming line.
I have visited both of these mines with students. Here is a student blog from this summer’s cycling course across Montana. These mines have been in rough financial shape lately due to declining overall demand for coal, and a change like this might put them totally out of business.
How’s COP26 going? The New Your Times published this good summary, “The reality is you’ve got two different truths going on,” said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the World Resources Institute. “We’ve made much more progress than we ever could’ve imagined a couple years ago. But it’s still nowhere near enough.” Coal trains still rolling through Missoula toward BC ports.
Some of the last mountain biking of the year in the Rattlesnake Rec Area above my house.
Western State Climate Policies
Colorado has statutory targets to reduce GHG emissions 26% by 2025, 50% by 2030, and 90% by 2050, all compared to 2005 levels, which were set in 2019.
New Mexico has a target to reduce GHG emissions 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, which was enacted in 2019.
California has a target of reaching net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2045, which was set in 2018. The state also set a target in 2005 to reduce GHG emissions 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. In 2006, the state enacted a statutory target to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and in 2016, it set a statutory target to reduce GHG emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.
Oregon has targets of reducing GHG emissions 45% below 1990 levels by 2035 and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, which were set in 2020. Additionally, the state has statutory targets of reducing emissions 10% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 75% below 1990 levels by 2050, which were enacted in 2007.
Washington has statutory targets to reduce GHG emissions 45% by 2030, 70% by 2040, and 95% by 2050, all compared to 1990 levels, which were enacted in 2020. The targets also aim for net-zero GHG emissions by 2050.