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caption: Edgar Franks at a climate justice march during COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland

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Edgar Franks at a climate justice march during COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland
Credit: Lily Sorum

What Washington state pledged at the Glasgow climate summit, and what activists say

West Coast leaders promised to phase out gas vehicles, ramp up land protections while in Glasgow.

Edgar Franks has just returned from the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland to a world of flooding around him.

Franks lives in Skagit County, where excessive rain turned streets into rivers this week. Videos by the city of Bellingham show the severity of damage, while social media posts by locals show living and cars rooms underwater.

Franks is a leader with Familias Unidas por la Justicia (an independent farm worker union) and a member of environmental justice group Front and Centered. To him, the local flooding paints the picture for why he attended COP26.

He's among activists who say numerous successes came out of COP26, including a worldwide commitment to slash methane use and written acknowledgement that fossil fuels are causing harm.

Meanwhile, West Coast governors and mayors are fresh off of the COP26 summit with a series of pledges they now need to follow through on.

What West Coast states have committed to:

  • New cars will need to be zero-emission in Washington by 2035
  • Conserve at least 30% of land and 30% of coastal waters by 2030
  • Ensure zero-emissions from newly constructed buildings by 2030
  • Transition all of Washington's government fleets to zero-emissions by 2040.
  • Ensure that at least 40% of expenditures benefit overburdened communities and vulnerable populations
  • Launch the Low Carbon Construction Task Force (introduced and announced by Inslee at COP26)

Governor Jay Inslee has touted Washington state as a climate leader among state and local governments.

Inslee, flexing his climate and environmental expertise at COP26, helped bring forward many of the initiatives for western states.

Inslee says, “using the economic muscle of our region to spur rapid advances in the development and use of low carbon building materials will help us go further and faster on reducing carbon pollution, and builds on the strengths of our manufacturing sector, commitment to clean electricity, and skilled workforce.”

The climate summit itself drew unprecedented attention to solutions. A notable presence at the event came from the Western United States, with the mayors of Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco, 350 Seattle, Washington youth activists, and tech mogul Jeff Bezos playing a role.

Will it be enough?

The pledges and attention are exciting developments for climate activists, but not nearly bold enough, says Edgar Franks.

"I think one of the things that was really being pushed was this idea, or this talk of, net-zero. But in our eyes net-zero is not zero, because you're not limiting pollution you're just planting trees or buying offsets, which is really problematic because you're not addressing the root problem or cutting off emissions at the source."

He says he was disappointed to see capitalistic forces present in Glasgow (via fossil fuel lobbyists), and wanted to see a quicker dialing down of fossil fuels.

"I think we have to be realistic that net-zero is more of a marketing campaign than it is a solution."

The Sierra Club is celebrating some of the accomplishments at COP26, namely methane reductions, but also says there are big pieces missing.

Jeff Shaw is a Sierra Club organizer in Bellingham and attended COP26. Shaw says they would have loved to see "funded commitments to help the poorer nations and particularly indigenous communities that are certainly going to experience the consequences of it most.

"That was, I think one of the big missed opportunities from COP26 that hopefully will be rectified in the coming year or so," says Shaw.

Shaw says organizers hope to see reparations going to climate refugees.

Washington-based groups like Front and Centered, 350 Seattle, and youth with Fridays for the Future had also argued for bolder fossil fuel reductions than world leaders were willing to take.

Overall though, Shaw says COP26 did get us closer to reigning in damage and keeping global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. And one thing stood out to Franks: he says he wants Inslee to be one of the leaders finding solutions away from oil and gas and taking on those industries.

The pledges made by western states are non-binding and therefor could come up in future legislation.