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California and the COP26 Global Climate Summit

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The 26th annual U.N. Climate Change Conference of Parties Summit (COP26) was held in Glasgow, Scotland from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. This year, the United Kingdom and Italy presided over the Summit.

The COP26 educational pamphlet addressed how natural disasters such as wildfires, storms and floods are intensifying. As a result, “most experts believe COP26 has a particular urgency.” 

Through small press conferences over the course of 12 days, this year’s climate summit consisted of world leaders, government and business representatives as well as citizens, whose insights would help the world’ nations draft new measures to mitigate climate change.

According to the COP26 website, all seven countries that make up the G7 economic group — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — have updated their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to put them on track to produce zero net carbon emissions by 2050. 70% of the global economy has also committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.  

At the current emissions rate, the world is expected to warm two degrees this century, which would have widespread and severe impacts on life on Earth. According to the COP26 site, one-third of the world’s population would be regularly exposed to extreme heat, almost all warm water coral systems would be destroyed and the polar ice caps would melt entirely every decade, leading to sea levels rising several meters. 

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted at COP21 in 2015, stated that every country must cut down carbon emissions to meet the one and a half degree global warming limit; however, how to achieve that goal was left to each nation’s discretion. Although the impacts will still be serious, the 1.5 degree target lowers the risk of famine and drought, economic disaster and lowered species extinction rates.

One of the COP26 press conferences, titled “University of California: California Leadership in Climate Justice,” was led by UCI environmental planning and policy assistant professor Dr. Michael Méndez, whose work focuses on “what the conceptualization of environmental justice and climate change has meant to activists, policymakers, experts and scholars alike.”

The press conference, which was held on Nov. 8, featured three panelists from the California State assembly: Eduardo Garcia of District 56, Luz Rivas of District 39, and Isaac Bryan of District 54, along with Méndez. All four speakers discussed the state’s progress on climate solutions and measures to solve environmental justice issues such as air pollution, poverty alleviation and extreme weather. 

“[California is] the world’s fifth largest economy and the only U.S. state to implement a comprehensive program of regulatory and market based mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Méndez said. 

The state employs a trade system that is aimed at reducing carbon emissions, and it is the one of largest of these programs globally after the EU and China.

“California has consistently been at the forefront of broader national and global environmental experimentation. Yet, “[the state is] at the front lines of climate impacts and injustice,” Méndez said.

According to his website, Méndez has experienced the consequences of environmental racism firsthand. 

“Due to existing structural inequality, these impacts are disproportionately affecting lower-income people of color,” Méndez said. “Climate events aren’t isolated disasters. They compound with other hazards and comorbidities.” 

Rivas, who also serves as a chair of the assembly’s natural resource committee, expanded on these disproportionate effects. This connected the committee’s focus on renewable energy, air quality and climate change.

“Low income communities … are suffering the effects of climate change, and are not primarily responsible for them,” Rivas said, stressing the importance of preparing public health plans to account for environmental crises. 

This year, Rivas and her committee focused on addressing the extreme heat in urban areas, securing $150 million in the state budget for this issue. According to Rivas, District 39 temperatures can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and some elderly citizens have no air conditioning and no place to escape the heat. 

“Thousands of people are dying, and we don’t know that because we don’t collect the data that we should,” Rivas said. 

Watch Méndez’s full press conference here

Lauren Le is a STEM Intern for the fall 2021 quarter. She can be reached at laurenl9@uci.edu