As thousands gather in Glasgow, Scotland for the COP26 climate summit, environmental activists are hoping to convince the representatives from 197 countries to make some big changes. They want them to include at least three more sectors in the requirements for nations’ emissions reporting and cutting.
The first sector is the plastics industry, which the fossil fuel sector has fully embraced as its financial life-line; the second is militaries, which are currently exempt from having to report on emissions; and, the third is large hydro-dam projects, which are often touted as a climate “solution” but present their own substantial emissions.
As it turns out, each of these sectors contribute massively to greenhouse gas pollution, but so far have been left out of consideration.
Plastics: fracking and cracking
When most of us think of plastics pollution, we think of plastic trash littering beaches and oceans worldwide. But a new report from the Beyond Plastics program at Bennington College in the U.S. reveals that plastics production is on track to release more emissions than coal.
The program issued a new report on Oct. 21 titled The New Coal: Plastics and Climate Change, analyzes ten stages of plastics production, usage and disposal, and finds massive amounts of previously uncounted emissions.
According to the press release for the report, Judith Enck, president of Beyond Plastics (and a former EPA Regional Administrator) stated:
“The fossil fuel industry is losing money from its traditional markets of power generation and transportation. They are building new plastics facilities at a staggering clip so they can dump their petrochemicals into plastics. This petrochemical buildout is cancelling out other global efforts to slow climate change.”
Enck told The Guardian about a new development at fracking sites, where companies fracking for natural gas were accustomed to burning off ethane releases into the atmosphere 24/7 (called “flaring”), rather than capping them. Now, however, fracking companies are using the ethane for what is called “cracking.” She said:
“[They] capture the ethane, build new pipelines, send the gas to ethane cracker facilities, which is heated at very high temperatures and cracked, thus the name, and that becomes the major building block for single-use plastic. It uses an enormous amount of energy…all to give us more single-use plastic packaging.”
The World Economic Forum in 2016 predicted that global plastics production would triple by 2050. Four years later, the pandemic greatly increased the amount of single-use plastics for personal protective equipment (PPE) across the planet.
Enck told Environmental Health News that the leaders at COP26 will need to include plastics in their emissions reductions efforts. “Leaving out plastics is leaving out a giant piece of the problems,” Enck said.
“We would like the national leaders that are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, to take the plastics issue just as seriously as they are taking transportation and electricity generation.”
At the 1997-1998 negotiations for the Kyoto Accord on climate – also known as the COP4 negotiations – the U.S. insisted that the Pentagon be exempted from all international climate agreements, as a national security provision. As a result, all U.S. military operations worldwide and within the U.S. have been exempt from carbon emission measurement or reduction.
Further, during those same negotiations, the U.S. obtained an exemption for all countries’ militaries from having to report or cut their carbon emissions. That exemption was obtained after then-U.S. vice-president Al Gore joined the American negotiating team in Kyoto.
At the COP21 meetings which led to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, a decision was made to allow each nation-state to determine which national sectors should make emissions cuts before 2030. Most nations decided to maintain the military exemption.
Now, however, the COP26 Coalition will attend the Glasgow event and demand that nations’ representatives agree to monitor and reduce all military greenhouse gas emissions.
Members of the coalition include CODEPINK, which has a “disarm for our Planet and Peace” web page and is organizing solidarity actions. Another Coalition member is Veterans for Peace, which has its own campaign to mandate that the Pentagon monitor military carbon emissions.
On October 19, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced that his government decided to end fossil fuel extraction in the province. Climate campaigners welcomed the announcement.
In the lead-up to the official announcement, The Globe and Mail published a Sept. 22 report on a corporate lawsuit being filed against Quebec for the move, with a statement from Greenpeace urging the province to go ahead with the ban. Greenpeace’s Patrick Bonin told The Globe that “Quebec could gain credibility [with such a move] and assert itself as the first nation to ban oil and gas exploration and exploitation in North America.”
Bonin did not explain why Quebec would need to “gain credibility” (and he could not be reached for comment). But it’s quite likely that Quebec would need to do so because of its stance regarding massive hydroelectric dam development and hydropower exports to New York state and elsewhere.
When Hydro-Quebec announced its 25-year, $20-billion power export deal with New York in September, the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance blasted the deal and released a letter sent by five First Nations to the New York City Deputy Mayor in May, which read:
“Although surrounded by Hydro-Quebec installations [including dams], our homes have no electricity or running water and have no wastewater management infrastructure. Our First Nations have enabled Quebec to industrialize and the majority of its citizens to access a better quality of life, but the health and well-being indicators for our communities continue to be comparable to those in third-world countries.”
During the 2015 Paris Climate negotiations, more than 300 civil society organizations from 53 countries called on governments to keep large hydropower projects out of climate initiatives. Calling large dams “a false solution” to climate change, these organizations stated that large dams “emit massive amounts of methane, make water and energy systems more vulnerable to climate change, and cause severe damage to critical ecosystems and local communities.”
A 2016 follow-up study, published in BioScience by ten authors in five countries, estimated that large hydro projects emit a billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. They urged that emissions from dams be included in global carbon budgets, which they currently are not.
With dams emissions, military emissions and plastics production emissions uncounted, it’s clear that UN representatives have been overlooking massive amounts of carbon pollution, while focusing mainly on phasing out coal. These are just a few of the issues that activists will be raising on the sidelines in Glasgow. Whether COP26 will alter this in twelve days of negotiations is a huge question.