What would make the COP26 climate conference a success?
“A turning point for humanity.”
This is what the next COP26 climate summit will be, at least according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who made the statement in a recent address to the United Nations General Assembly.
As the UK prepares to host this year’s conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Johnson called on world leaders to “recognize the scale of the challenge we face” on climate issues.
Last summer, much of the northern hemisphere was hit by a succession of record-breaking natural disasters, ranging from strong heat waves in North America to deadly flooding in parts of Western Europe, India and China, through uncontrollable forest fires in the Mediterranean.
The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that the Earth is warming faster than previously thought, calling it a ‘code red for humanity’ .
So what exactly are world leaders hoping for at COP26? Here’s what you need to know.
What is COP26?
Every year since 1995, the UN has brought together almost every country in the world to fight climate change at what is called the Conference of the Parties (COP).
Put simply, this is the biggest and most important climate conference on the planet, and COP26 has been hailed as “the world’s best last chance” to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. .
Last year marked the 26th year of the COP, but the global pandemic has delayed the gathering, so it is taking place this year from November 1-12. It will bring together more than 20,000 participants in Glasgow, including heads of state, negotiators, climate experts, business leaders and citizens.
COP26 is seen as an important follow-up to COP21, held in Paris in December 2015, which gave birth to the Paris Agreement.
Why is the Paris Agreement important?
In 2015, for the first time, countries agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, with a target of 1.5 C.
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Under the Paris Agreement, each country has committed to developing a plan to reduce its carbon emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Countries also agreed to update their NDCs every five years to reflect the most ambitious and achievable goal at that time.
COP26 is the first time since Paris that countries will have to present their updated NDCs. Canada’s updated NDC reduces emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, an improvement over the original commitment to reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
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Another important pledge made in Paris was to reaffirm a prior commitment by developed countries to contribute to a climate fund of US $ 100 billion per year to help developing countries by 2020, and to extend that commitment for another five years. until 2025.
What does COP26 hope for?
COP26 has four main objectives:
- Guarantee global net-zero emissions commitments by 2050 and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, including taking measures such as phasing out coal, switching to electric vehicles and stopping deforestation.
- Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.
- Mobilize finance to deliver on the pledge to pool at least $ 100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020.
- Work together to achieve these goals.
“Accountability is really a watchword for this COP. One of the key issues is to ensure that there is accountability in the system,” said Jennifer Allan, senior lecturer in international relations at the ‘Cardiff University and contributor to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin, the de facto history of global environmental negotiations.
“It’s really about getting that report so everyone knows what everyone else is doing on a regular basis, rather than worrying about it a few years down the road.”
This is why COP26 takes place over two weeks. It takes time for an army of negotiators to get to the heart of the matter of timetables, emission reduction commitments and a reporting system where progress can be measured and countries can be held accountable.
Allan says these negotiations are crucial for the success of COP26.
“Yes, these technical rules are boring. But it builds the confidence that all countries are doing similar things, they are all moving at the same pace.”
How far is the world from achieving its climate goals?
Still quite far. Critics have warned that current updated national commitments to reduce carbon emissions will far miss climate targets.
“At the moment we are only 15% closer than two years ago to being on track for 1.5 degrees if no further NDC review is done before the Glasgow summit,” he said. said Anna Åberg, research analyst at Chatham House in London.
Meanwhile, pledges to reach $ 100 billion in funding have also failed.
Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment for Canada, is part of an effort to push countries to meet their commitments and meet the target of US $ 100 billion in climate finance until 2025.
“This $ 100 billion figure is mostly symbolic. It falls short of the needs of developing countries, but it is really important that it gets delivered,” Berg said. “It was the central element of the market underlying the Paris Agreement. Not delivering would be a massive breach of trust.”
What are the most important announcements leading up to the conference?
Before the conference, several major players made significant climate commitments.
Chinese President Xi Jinping made an unexpected announcement at the United Nations General Assembly in September that China would end funding for foreign coal-fired power plants. Xi did not provide any details, but the announcement follows similar initiatives from South Korea and Japan earlier this year.
US President Joe Biden also raised the bar at the recent UNGA by doubling US climate aid. He said he would work with Congress to double funds by 2024 to $ 11.4 billion a year to help developing countries deal with climate change.
These positive steps from the two biggest carbon emitters in the world injected a note of optimism ahead of the Glasgow summit.
Earlier this month, a group of major cement producers pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by up to 25% this decade and reach net zero by 2050. The industry is responsible about 7% of global carbon emissions, more than anyone else. countries other than China and the United States
What does a successful COP26 look like?
The question is whether COP26 will have a positive outcome or will it simply be the culmination of “30 years of blah blah blah” in the words of climate activist Greta Thunberg?
Åberg says one of the key things to watch out for are “statements made by policymakers at the high-level plenary”, where ministers and other prominent figures demonstrate their climate ambition.
Experts are particularly interested in what governments plan to do to close the gap between current commitments and the emission reductions needed to stay on track and keep global warming at 1.5 ° C.
“Will they revise their NDCs sooner than the Paris timetable foresees? Will they make concrete commitments on phasing out fossil fuels and protecting nature?” said Åberg.
In short, a successful COP26 is about keeping the promises made in the Paris Agreement. It is about taking more ambitious steps to meet climate goals as soon as possible. And it’s about having concrete action plans – not just words – to get us there.
Without it, the implications are particularly dire for those parts of the world that bear the brunt of climate change, says Nnimmo Bassey, Nigerian architect, climate activist and one of Time Magazine’s environmental heroes in 2009.
“Africa as a continent is warming to a level above the world average – about 50% more,” Bassey said. “We have survived being in the pot, on the fire so long. Now Africa is on the chopping block.”
Allan points out that to date, major issuers like China, India and Australia still have not submitted updated NDCs prior to the summit. Current commitments represent a 12% reduction in global emissions, but it still puts the world on track for 2.4 ° C warming by 2100.
“It will be really difficult to call a victory for this COP unless we see a big increase in this ambition,” she said.
Åberg said she “was hesitant to use this pass-fail language, because I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Glasgow will not achieve everything we want to achieve”.
But she recognizes “we can still go a long way. The goal of this COP26 is implementation. We are not there yet, but we are on the right track. I think the worst thing we can do is to give up “.