The US is back but is it better than ever?

Week 2 University of Michigan Student Delegates COP26 Glasgow Scotland

Being able to attend an international United Nations conference has been a dream of mine for many years. Attending a conference like that as an observer feels energetic and inspiring. There are many like minded individuals all around you inspired to work on the very same world problems as you.  I kept having to remind myself where I was and what I was witnessing. I can’t say enough about how grateful I am to have attended COP26. I was able to network and attend events on topics of interest and was surrounded by industry leaders.

When I entered the conference, I was certain that I would focus my efforts on international climate adaptation and developing countries since this is a topic of interest during my study for my master’s degree.  However, when I started to attend events, I found myself drawn to events with a US presence. I seemly stumbled onto events where I got to hear from high level US cabinet members. This would not have been the case only 2 years prior at COP25. COP26 was the first time in 5 years that the federal government was engaged with the international climate negotiations.  In November of 2020, the US formally withdrew from the Paris Agreement as the former administration’s goals did not align with acknowledging the impacts of climate change.  With the election of the Biden Administration the US was back at the conference.[1] To make this fact even clearer that this current administration is focusing on climate change they had written in enormous letters on the side of the US Center booth in the pavilion “America Is All In”.  The Build Back Better initiative was also a highlight and cornerstone of US policy as the bipartisan infrastructure bill was just passed. [2]The Build Back Better initiative has engrained that each new project should be climate resilient. Additionally, the US Build Back Better will also be working internationally and investing $5 billion to create green and reliable infrastructure worldwide.  So, the US is back at the climate change conference but is it better than ever?

The US sent in its big guns with appearances from 13 high level cabinet members, the current president and one former president.  The US Special Envoy to Climate, John Kerry attended the Adaptation Fund meeting where he walked in with gusto and a team of secret service agents and announced that for the first time the US would be contributing to the international climate Adaptation Fund. While $50 million is a lot of money it barely scratches the surface of the $100 billion promised to developing nations by 2020.  John Kerry was present all week at the conference heading the negotiations team throughout the negotiations process.

David Turk, US Deputy Secretary of Energy COP26



I also attended the events on the Mission Innovation and the Aviation Industry. This had special guest appearances from the Deputy Secretary of Energy, David Turk and Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg. Each announced the goal of net zero by 2050 in respective industries. For Mission Innovation [1] David Turk announced the H2 Twi Cities initiative which will pair cities and communities to form a larger community of green hydrogen best practices, increase collaboration, and broaden the reach of hydrogen deployment to reduce global emissions. Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using renewable energy.[2] Additionally, Pete Buttigieg announced the US would be joining the International Aviation Climate Ambition Declaration which aims to set the aviation industry to net zero emissions by 2050 [3]. This also incorporated technologies such as green hydrogen fueled or fully electric planes.




Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, at COP26

While these events were great to attend my favorite event was at the US Center with a talk on the Importance of Youth Activism in Environmental Justice. While all other events at COP left me with a feeling of doom and gloom this event was the only one that left me feeling hopeful. The event was led by the Administrative Assistant at the EPA Department of International and Tribal Affairs and there was a panel of 6 youth activist speakers. One speaker that stood out to me was Justin, a student from Detroit and a current member on Michigan’s Advisory Board of Environmental Justice. He highlighted that many times leaders discount the intelligence and power that youth carry with them to affect incredible change. 

US Center Event Importance of Youth Activism in Environmental Justice at COP26

This COP was a moment of redemption for the US and took its positions back as a world leader in the fight against climate change. However, it did not deliver the quantifiable action to meet a 1.5C world. The US still needs to substantially contribute millions (possibly billions) of more dollars to adaptation finance for developing nations. There was also a sizable missing notice of indigenous voices and there needs to be an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Many negotiators from developing countries stated that they are growing tired of the US stalling on concrete policies for climate change when it is ever more present the dire situation the world is in. Additionally, the US must agree to loss and damage text to account for historical emissions that have been disastrous for developing nations. The $11.4 billion that President Biden committed to fighting climate change during his administration is only half of what the EU has promised[1]. The US still has a long fight ahead to lower its rank in being the 2nd largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.


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