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A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

How might COP26 affect the Mountain West?

An oil pumpjack works alongside a flare burning off methane gasses in a field in Colorado.
WildEarth Guardians
/
Flickr

The UN Climate Conference, or COP26, is underway in Glasgow, Scotland. Global agreements made there aim to limit the negative effects of climate change, like drought and extreme fires, which are already apparent in the Mountain West. But will it have more immediate impacts on the region?

According to Morgan Bazilian, director of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at the Colorado School of Mines, any near-term effects will likely come from people in Scotland who aren’t directly involved in negotiations.

“Almost all of those 25,000 people (expected to be at COP26) do not participate in the actual negotiations of the United Nations framework,” Bazilian said. “Roughly 5% of the people who are showing up there are actually related to the negotiations.”

He said there will likely be more happening in meetings outside the formal conference as new partnerships are formed and announcements are made.

“President Biden announced a methane regulation rule for the United States while he was in Glasgow,” he said. “That technically has nothing to do with the climate change conference.”

That policy in particular could affect oil and gas all across the region. The president directed the EPA to crack down on leaks and will require more stringent regulations for the oil and gas industry nationwide.

The proposed methane rule was expected long before the conference, and many pointed to Colorado as a framework for those regulations. New Mexico has also been cracking down on methane emissions, with more regulations passed just this last year.

Another thing to watch for at COP26, Bazilian said, is a trade agreement for so-called “green” or “clean” steel. Those already producing steel with fewer emissions could benefit – like the steel plant in Pueblo, Colo., that's largely solar-powered as of this month.

“That’s between the United States and the European Union, but it would have broader implications for the global trade of steel,” he said.

But COP26 is just a larger reflection on how the world is viewing emissions and climate change, and the sentiments around that could affect energy industries and trade all around the West.

Bazilian noted that the Biden administration made a very public move to send 12 members of the U.S. cabinet along with the president to the summit, likely more representation than any other nation in the world.

“It was done, I believe, for optics and showing the big change in priorities between the Biden administration and Trump administration,” he said. “The audience for that type of ‘show of strength’ — as they called it themselves — is the American people.”

COP26 is expected to continue until Nov. 12.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.