COP26 is Just Around the Corner




What is COP26?


COP stands for Conference of the Parties and over the last three decades, various governments from around the world have gathered together annually to discuss the current climate issues and work on solutions to resolve this crisis. In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit the United Nations framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC) was signed and established. This document bounds every country in the world by law to “avoid dangerous changes to the climate” and to find new solutions to combat against greenhouse gas emissions in an equitable way.


The first attempt made to turn the UNFCCC’s resolution into action was in 1997 with the Kyoto Protocol. This procedure set targets on emission cuts for each of the more developed countries and required a 5% cut in global greenhouse gases by 2012. This would allow the developing countries including China to raise their emissions. However, the protocol hit a wall due to the United States could not sanction it due to oppositions in its Congress. In 2005 the protocol was eventually put into place without the backing of the US, unfortunately though by this time it had become irrelevant and a new treaty which fulfilled the UNFCCC’s aims was created in 2015 called the Paris Agreement.


The Paris Agreement was developed at a landmark summit in December 2015 and commemorated the first time that both developed and developing countries agreed to limit greenhouse gases in an attempt to keep set temperature limits. The overall goal of the Paris Agreement is to limit the worlds global heating to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, while attempting to pursue efforts to stay within the lower safer limit of 1.5C. This resulted in countries setting out targets to keep within these constraints, in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s).


This year marks the 26th iteration of the conference which had to be postponed over the last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will be the parent treaty to the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Conference is set to be held in the UK in Glasgow officially opening on the 31st of October with more than 120 world leaders gathering within the first few days with more than 25,000 delegates from at least 197 countries taking part making this the biggest diplomatic event to take place on British soil since World War II.


Why do we need a COP26?


In order to meet the goals, put in place by the Paris Agreement developed countries have agreed on non-binding national targets to cut and developing countries have agreed to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the near future estimating 2030 in many cases. These national targets are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDS’s) and form the heart of the Paris Agreement. These NDC’s came about as a result of many countries being reluctant to accept tip-down targets similar to the ones agreed to in the Kyoto agreement.

However, these targets are inadequate to establish within the temperature limits recognized in the Paris Agreement. If these targets were to be fulfilled, they would ultimately result in 3C or more of global warming, which would lead to disastrous effects.


It was a well-known fact even during the establishment of these NDC’s that they were lacking, so the French as a counter founded at “ratchet mechanism” which stated that countries would be required to return to the table every 5 years in order to pledge to fresh commitments. As of December 2020, these 5 years have passed however the conference was delayed due to the pandemic.


Many countries are now being urged to revise their NDC’s before the COP26 this month which will in line with a 1.5C target, which was the lower goal of the Paris Agreement. There have been several reports made by scientists throughout the world that emissions must be reduced by at least 45% by 2030, compared with the 2010 levels, and from there to net zero emissions by 2050, if the world is to succeed in remaining within the 1.5C limit.


At this time, the UN has recently reported that the current NDC’s including the newly submitted and revised versions from the US, the UK and the EU as well at least 100 other countries around the world are still insufficient of the end goal. They result in a 16% increase in emissions which is far from the target goal of 45% cut required, which essentially means that there is still much to be done in order to achieve this objective.


Why 1.5C?


The figure of 1.5C was agreed upon as a result of the world’s leading authorities on climate science – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – examined what the results would be where the planet to continue to rise above 1.5C. It was from these examinations that they discovered a substantial difference in the damages created at 1.5C and 2C of heating and concluded that the lower temperature was much safer overall.


The results concluded that an increase of 1.5C would cause a rise in sea levels, bleaching of coral reefs, an increase in heatwaves, droughts, floods, stronger storms, and other extreme forms of weather however these extremes would be far less substantial compared to a rise of 2C.


Additional findings concluded by the IPCC in August also highlighted these warnings and suggested that there was a chance for the world to stay within these 1.5C limits however furthermore intensive efforts would need to be established, as an increase of even fraction of a degree would be important.


So, what about the countries known for producing the worst emissions?


One of the world’s biggest emitters China has yet to submit their new NDC’s and has not been made known whether the president XI Jinping, will be making the trip to Glasgow. While his presence would be beneficiary there have been many leading government officials who have stated that even without his attendance the conference can still be made successful.


XI Jinping stated in 2020 that China would reach its target net zero emissions by 2060, which was a major step in the right direction and peak emissions by 2030. The latter pledge is regarded as unsatisfactory and could potentially lead the planet to breaching the 1.5C. There have been many analyst reports which say that China could cause emissions to peak by 2025, which some added endeavour which would be enough to keep the planet on the correct path.


However, China is not the only country to consider in terms of the worst emitters, major fossil fuel producers such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia have been reluctant to strengthen their commitments and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro has also continued to oversee the destruction of the Amazon.


Japan has also recently come under the umbrella of a new government which beings into question their commitment towards the crisis. India has come close to committing net zero over the last year however due to the global pandemic, it was overtaken with its economy rapidly growing and its dependence on coal being made a key factor in talks. Other countries known to also watch out for include Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico etc.



Other discussions to take place at COP26


While the NDC’s are the central focus of the negotiations getting more countries onboard with signing up towards the net zero goal is also crucial. The UK presidency however also has other aspects which it hopes to focus on namely: climate finance, phasing out coal and nature-based solutions.

Climate finance is essentially money which is provided to the poorer countries in the world from both public and private sources in order to assist them in cutting their emissions and cope with the more extreme impacts of the changes to the weather. During the Copenhagen Cop in 2009 the less developed countries of the world were promised around $100bn a year by 2020. This target however has been missed with around $80bn provided last year, and as a result the developing countries are looking for assurances that the money will be forthcoming as soon as possible with a new financial settlement expanding funds available beyond 2025.


An essential part of the plan to stay within 1.5C is to phase-out the use of coal. Several countries have already begun to move in this direction – with countries such as China the worlds leading coal consumer stopping the financing of coal fired power plants. However, countries such as India, Indonesia, Mexico, Australia etc are still major producers and consumers of coal so plans must be made to counteract this.


Nature-based resolutions are projects such as preserving and restoring existing forests, peatlands, wetlands and other natural carbon sinks, and growing more trees. These are essential initiatives, and the destruction of the Amazon and other rainforests around the world is a huge provider to climate change and biodiversity loss. Essentially meaning that fossil fuel use must also end.


There has also been improvement on issues such as methane, a greenhouse gas that can heat the planet 80 times more than carbon dioxide, and which comes from animal husbandry, agricultural waste, oil drilling and other fossil fuel exploration. The EU and the US formed a partnership to cut global methane emissions by 2030, which recent research found could mostly be achieved at little or no cost.


So how far do we have to go?


Around the world temperature are reported to be already around 1.1 to 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and greenhouse gas emissions are still very much on the rise.


During the last year over the COVID-19 lockdown, carbon dioxide output dropped substantially, however it is obvious that this was only temporary and that uses have begun to surge again due to the recovery of the global economies. In order to stay within the 1.5C, global emissions must decrease by an estimation of 7% a year for at least a decade.


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