Olympics-sized challenges for COP-26

Like the Summer Olympics of 2021 (originally scheduled for summer 2020) the 26th Conference of the Parties (the world climate-change forum held in late autumn each year – this year scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, beginning in November) as well in 2020 due to the pandemic, had to be postponed.

What happens this year may all depend on what progress is made in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. It still poses a serious threat, the Delta variant now the main infectious strain; as of this writing it accounts for 83 percent of all U.S. cases.

Be this as it may, this has not stopped Olympic competition in Tokyo, Japan – for now. The game activities go on. This despite the fact, again, as of this writing, at least 110 people in Japan’s capital that have a connection with Olympics events, have tested positive for the disease. That number is sure to increase.

The public has been given assurances that the competition will not suffer any pandemic-related interruptions. It was reported that Olympian athletes cannot arrive any sooner than five days prior to when their events are actually taking place. And, any athletes who test positive for coronavirus, must be isolated, their competitive status then put in limbo.

All of which could have implications for COP-26 attendees.

Come this fall, October actually, the number of coronavirus cases in this fourth wave, is expected to peak, at least in the U.S. anyway. How severe the caseload becomes remains to be seen. Will presently unvaccinated people get vaccines? This applies to all currently under the age of 12 years as well as those 12 years and older regardless of reason that are not presently immunized.

In Tokyo, meanwhile, there are those legions who are protesting in the streets, opposing continued Olympics participation. Will the same sort of objections surface over the convening of COP-26 in Glasgow? All could very well depend on what the overarching citizen sentiment is four months down the road. You have to remember that if the summit is held, attendees will be arriving from every corner of the globe. The status of the virus then could be the lone determining factor.

As for the issue of climate change/global warming itself, this too is a delicate, sensitive, tricky, sticky, call it what you will, issue.

Around the world we’re witnessing horrendous flooding in Germany, India and, in the United States in Colorado. Record rainfall amounts are falling. In Germany in one area, 3 months’ worth of rain was dumped in 3 days’ time. In one location in India, 23 inches of rain fell in 24 hours, inundating the terrain where the precipitation landed, torrents of water even dislodging homes and carrying them away in some cases. And, not to be forgotten is the typhoon affecting a part of Asia.

Then there are the devastating fires and drought in the western U.S. In fact, it was reported that smoke from these was impacting skies and health as far away as New York City. Add to this the inordinately high temperatures that are being felt, again, as of this writing, in the nation’s mid-section and soon to follow in the east. All of this could play into what could be upcoming come this November a quarter of a world away. And, the year is only a little more than halfway over.

So, here is a question: Can an event as large as the Conference of the Parties, if it is absolutely essential that it take place, be conducted remotely, in, say, a Zoom-type format? Another question is why do participants find it necessary to convene such a gathering in a single predetermined location, and a different one at that each year? Again, why can’t such be done remotely? Can the logistics for doing such ahead of time not be worked out? If as humans we have the power to change the climate, which a whole host of people the world over absolutely believe we possess the power to do, then it seems completely plausible that this year’s conference can be coordinated and conducted digitally. In fact, this should be a piece of cake.

Based on climate talks so far and what has been written in the literature is that planet warming must be limited to a rise of not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (C) at the end of this century, that is, to stave off climate change’s most catastrophic, most calamitous effects. From pre-industrial times, the average global surface temperature has risen about 1.1 degrees to 1.2 degrees C above the norm.

To provide some additional background and perspective, for the past 10,000-12,000 years, global mean surface temperature has remained fairly constant, that is, comparatively speaking, allowing civilization between 5,000 and 9,000 years ago or thereabouts to firmly take root. Prior to these past 10,000-12,000-or so years, going back hundreds of thousands if not millions of years, the earth in general experienced wild temperature swings resulting both glacial (cold) and interglacial (hot) periods alike. That information is held in ice-core and ancient fossil sample data. For the record, there have also been times when carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have been far more elevated (more than two times higher) than what the average is at present, it being 418 parts per million: The evidence derived from experimentation and that offered in fossilized plant and animal remains, bears this out. Sea levels were much, much higher too. Again, evidence backs this up.

One thing is certain right now in this day and age: The world has gotten hotter. The effects we are seeing and feeling as a result of the temperature increase is unmistakable. If we have it within our control to alter the climate – and evidence suggests that we do – then we presumably have it within our means to change it back. The question is will we, and how and where will this be accomplished? Here’s hoping the good work to do that is forthcoming, a face-to-face or over-the-web-held COP-26 climate summit, notwithstanding.

– Alan Kandel

All material copyright 2021.

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