As world leaders gather in Scotland’s largest city Glasgow for upcoming COP26 — the 2021 edition of the United Nations Annual Climate Change Conference, governments will come face to face after a one-year delay due to the pandemic to renew and strengthen commitments to the 2015 Paris Agreement goal of keeping warming to 1.5 degree Celsius within reach.
What does COP stand for? It is the Conference of the Parties that are the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — a treaty agreed in 1994 which has 197 parties — 196 countries and the EU.
The 2021 conference, being hosted by the UK from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow, will be the 26th meeting of the parties that is why it’s called COP26.
The big question is: With global political will arguably the strongest in many years, can this COP under the Britain Presidency be a game-changer?
Climate negotiators told IANS on Monday the summit is primarily focused on climate finance for action by developing nations to build resilience to climate change and to reduce emissions to keep 1.5 degrees Celsius future alive and abandoning fossil fuels.
The most critical agenda of meeting the $100 billion climate finance commitment and agreement on how the UNFCCC process will take forward work on climate finance, including finance for adaptation, developing country needs, aligning finance flows with Paris, as well as reviewing and giving guidance to multilateral climate funds.
Also addressing the gap that exists between NDCs and emissions reductions required by science to keep 1.5 in reach; including a roadmap for strengthening 2030 NDCs as necessary ahead of, and through, the Global Stocktake in 2023.
Another agenda is to strengthen expectations of all parties to produce long-term strategies pointing the way to net zero and political prioritisation of adaptation, including launch of work to drive progress towards the Global Goal on Adaptation.
In the run up to COP26, the Biden administration announced its climate finance commitment to over $11 billion — a fourfold increase — by 2024 to developing nations to respond to climate emergencies, but this still doesn’t close the gap.
The latest Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) data shows that international climate finance increased by just two per cent from 2018 to 2019, leaving a $20 billion shortfall to the 2020 target.
New World Resources Institute (WRI) research finds three major economies — the US, Australia, and Canada — provided less than half their share of the financial effort in 2018, based on objective indicators such as the size of their economies and their greenhouse gas emissions.
Other nations that provided less than half of their fair share were Greece, Iceland, New Zealand and Portugal.
In total, more than a dozen developed countries were falling short of their responsibilities, says the WRI.
COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma says, “The science is clear, we must act now to put the world on a path to net zero emissions if we are to limit global warming and keep 1.5C within reach. This means all countries, businesses and individuals have an important part to play.”
The UK is already showing leadership with clear plans to reduce its emissions by 68 per cent by 2030 and 78 per cent by 2035, leading to net zero by 2050.
For nearly three decades, the United Nations has been bringing together almost every country for global climate summits, called COPs.
A pivotal moment for the world came at COP21 in Paris in 2015 when each country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims. That COP gave birth to the landmark Paris Agreement.
Under the agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions — known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs.
They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.
This year’s COP is the moment when countries update their plans for reducing emissions.
Some progress has been made since the Paris Agreement was signed. More than 85 new or updated NDCs to 2030, representing over 110 parties, have been submitted to set out how countries will cut their emissions and address the climate crisis.
The science is clear in a stark warning ahead of the COP26 in a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations organisation, that warns human activity is damaging the planet at an alarming rate.
The report says climate change is already affecting every region across the globe and that without urgent action to limit warming, heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and loss of Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost, will all increase while carbon sinks will become less effective at slowing the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The report highlights that cutting global emissions, starting immediately, to net zero by mid-century would give a good chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C in the long-term and help to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
So the Glasgow summit is a key moment for countries, cities, businesses and more to keep the Paris Agreement on climate change on track and put forward ambitious, equitable solutions for a zero-carbon future. And this is what the UK Presidency is aiming to achieve.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)