The United Nations Climate Change Conference brings together the parties (197 countries or states) that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, an international environmental treaty established to combat the effects of human interference in the climate system. Its supreme decision-making body, the Conference of the Parties (COP), meets annually to assess progress in that subject. Its purpose is to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol and establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to put a halt to an earth temperature rise. Since 2015 the meetings have also been used to evaluate the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the national plans highlighting policies and measures governments aim to implement in response to climate change and as a contribution to achieve the global targets set out in the Paris Agreement.

Postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the COP26 is taking place in less than a month in Glasgow, UK from October 31st to November 12th. In the run up to COP26 the parties are working to reach an agreement on how to tackle climate change. World leaders will arrive in Scotland, alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses, and citizens for twelve days of talks. In the first week of the summit, Government officials are expected to discuss technical issues including carbon credits, funding for the most vulnerable countries affected by climate change and nature-based solutions. In the second week, heads of state are expected to negotiate and make agreements towards the fulfillment of the climate global targets, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping the globe’s temperature under 1.5ºC.

Minimal temperature increases to 1.5 or 2ºC might sound insignificant, but when it comes to our planet, they can have an irreversible damaging impact. According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) at 1.5ºC warming, about 14% of Earth’s population will be exposed to severe heatwaves at least once every five years, while at 2ºC warming, it would rise to 37%. The IPCC also states that the rise in global warming is anticipated to drive increasingly devastating and costly impacts, including extreme heatwaves, rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, reductions in crop yields, and widespread ecosystem damage including coral reefs and fisheries. For many communities and developing countries, the threat of different climate impacts between these rises in temperature is existential and something must be done quickly.

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Why is COP26 so important?

Bearing all this in mind makes COP26 a critical step towards the global win over climate change.

COP26 is being viewed as the successor to COP21 where the Paris Agreement was born. This year’s conference is seen as the summit to address what has and hasn’t been achieved since then. State leaders must conclude outstanding items regarding the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Several large emitters – including the US, the UK and the EU – have now submitted their updated NDCs, however according to the Climate Action Tracker the overall rating for the mentioned territories’ targets are classified as “insufficient” and “almost sufficient”. It is critical that all countries overhaul their unambitious NDCs in order to make these pledges aligned with 1.5°C and lay the ground for a transformational decade of climate action in the 2020’s and come forward with ambitious emissions reductions targets that align with reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Also, considering the new reality, COVID-19 has refocused priorities and led individuals and governments alike to be more open towards environmental issues and the perils of human interference in it. As many countries look to rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic, there has been a major prominence on building a better recovery through a green and a circular transition. To achieve this, countries will need to accelerate the phase-out of coal, curtail deforestation, and encourage investment in renewable and alternative energies and, ultimately, support a fair transition to a circular economy by keeping the creation of decent jobs and skills development at the forefront of the change.

In the end, it’s imperative that countries cooperate to keep the goal of 1.5°C within reach.

With political and economic systems facing deep uncertainties and global supply chains increasingly fragmented, COP26 can be an opportunity to re-imagine and reset global partnerships and to work together to face these challenges. Long-term targets to achieve carbon neutrality or a decarbonization have the potential to be powerful drivers of achieving a real green and circular transition but this needs to be supported by ambitious NDCs as well as concrete policies, proper investment and, most importantly, political will.

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References:

IPCC (2021) Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. In Press. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf

COP26 (2021) COP26 Goals. United Nations Climate Change. Available at: https://ukcop26.org/cop26-goals/

UNFCCC (2015) The Paris Agreement. Available at: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement

European Comission (2021) COP26 Climate Change Conference. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/clima/news-your-voice/events/cop26-climate-change-conference_fr

Climate Action Tracker (2021) Climate Action Tracker Tool. Available at: https://climateactiontracker.org/