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What the international climate summit could mean for Montana

A view from the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2021.
Threshold Podcast
A view from the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2021.

The meeting of world leaders at the COP26 international climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, thousands of miles away from Montana, may have big implications for the state.

MTPR’s Freddy Monares spoke to Amy Martin to help us understand the connection between the international climate meeting and Montana. Martin is the executive producer and host for Threshold Podcast. Each season of the show tackles one pressing environmental issue.

Freddy Monares Amy, you were at the climate summit. Can you give us a boilerplate on what the meeting tried to accomplish?

Amy Martin Yeah. So these these are international summits that happen every single year. They're called COP because it means Conference of the Parties, which is parties to this agreement that got formed in the early to mid-nineties, where basically all the countries of the world came together and said climate change is real, it's a thing we need to work together on. The broadest picture is it's the countries of the world coming together to try to figure out how to prevent the climate from spiraling completely off the rails. This particular COP was very important because people might remember in 2015 there was the COP that happened in Paris and the Paris Agreement was signed. This meeting in Glasgow was trying to actually figure out how to implement that goal.

Freddy Monares How does this work effect Montana?

Amy Martin The biggest thing to understand about climate issues in Montana is that it's really not just one thing, it's everything to do with water, which of course, is a huge issue in the West anyway. So whether we're talking droughts or floods, snowpack, anything to do with precipitation. Fires, of course, is very much related to to water. And then that directly connects to food, which is, you know, Montana's, a huge food-producing state. So our crops, our livestock, also the fish and game that people, you know, hunt and fish and depend on for food or just enjoy.

And then I guess another thing that I think we should all be thinking about is just basic financial security. Because solving climate change is expensive, it will take money to get on top of this. But living with an unending climate chaos is even more expensive. It's an exponentially more expensive. And so that's something that I think we have to start to wrap our heads around, that there's no way through this that doesn't cost us something. And it's kind of a matter of are we going to pay something upfront to get ahead of this or are we going to be, all of us, stretched more and more thin by having to deal with unending disasters and other kinds of instability that suck all the resources out of our communities?

Freddy Monares What's at stake if this work outlined during the summit is or isn't accomplished?

Amy Martin Well, you know, it's kind of hard to overstate what's at stake. One of the people who I spoke with at the summit, who I thought spoke to this in a really powerful way, is a man named Dr. Saleemul Huq. He's the director of the International Center for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh. And Bangladesh is a country that is going to be is already being impacted by climate change and is one of the countries that is the most vulnerable to climate crisis in years moving forward. He's been to all 26 of the COP meetings, so he's feeling impatient with the pace of progress at the COPs.

"Well, the best possible outcome has traditionally always been an incremental progress, and we have taken pride in having made some progress. But unfortunately, you know, this is not something that we compare ourselves with where we were last year and we did a little bit more this year. We have to compare ourselves with the climate. The climate has a say and the climate is telling us we're not doing enough" Huq said.

Freddy Monares What conversations did you hear about where solutions must come from? Is this a problem for national leaders or is this a role for states or local communities?

Amy Martin I heard a lot about the role for states and local communities. Actually, I think that there's a growing movement around this phrase 'coalition of the willing', where rather than waiting for everyone to get on board with a certain thing, different states or even different communities within states, finding partners who kind of see it the same way they do, and moving forward on a particular thing. And that's happening also on the world level that, you know, there can be a few countries that kind of see things the same. And that might be a coalition of the willing, but you can have a coalition of the willing that is a few cities that come together that say, 'hey, we all share this goal, let's support each other in moving forward.'

A sign at the COP26 climate summit
Threshold Podcast
A sign at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 2021.

Freddy Monares That's really interesting, a coalition from the coalitions.

In one of the dispatches your team filed from the summit, you focus on the idea of loss and damage when the conversation about climate change acknowledges there are things we can't fix, it's just too late. This comes up on the international stage during negotiations on responding to the climate crisis, based on the understanding that some countries have contributed more to climate change than others. How can we think about this issue in Montana?

Amy Martin I think the key thing to understand here is that the G20 nations, 20 countries, are responsible for 78 percent of cumulative global greenhouse gas emissions. So although this problem affects everyone, it is the 20 wealthiest countries that have created the problem. I actually, there were a lot of protests around this loss and damage idea, and I came upon an artist who was holding up a big sign outside of the area that just said loss and damage, and her name was Laura Hopes. I asked her to define what loss and damage really means.

"This might not be the best understanding of it, but it's the point at which rich countries in the global north need to recompense climate-vulnerable nations who are most directly experiencing loss and damage and don't have the ability to move into adaptation and resilience because they're so, you know, hugely impacted by storms, wildfires, flooding.'

Amy Martin Yeah. And I guess this is one of the interesting places where what's happening outside of this conference ends up really affecting what's happening inside of it. You know, we think about all world leaders getting together, making decisions and all of the the influence flows from them out to us. But it actually goes both ways. I think in Montana, it's it's a good thing for us just to get educated about, like, what is what is loss and damage and why should we care about it? It isn't just all of us made this problem together, that some people, some countries made the problem worse and that a lot of other countries and a lot of other populations are saying, 'Hey, we don't want to be stuck, you know, footing the bill for a problem we didn't cause.'

Freddy Monares So what's next?

Amy Martin Well, there will be another COP next year. It'll be in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and this work will continue on the international level. But I think, you know, the question that you raised earlier about what's happening, you know, in the local and the state level is really the best answer to what's next. It's kind of like, what are we all going to do about it here at home? Whether that means, you know, looking at what's happening within our own households, but also just, again, getting educated about what's possible to do on the local level. And there are a lot of things that are possible, but it takes people deciding to care and deciding to try to learn from each other.

Freddy Monares was a reporter and Morning Edition host at Montana Public Radio.
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