WHAT IS COP26?
Every year the United Nations brings together nearly every single country in the world to discuss climate change. COP stands for the Conference of the Parties, where parties are the governments who have signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change(UNFCCC). The 2021 meeting will be the 26th meeting of the countries and hence it is called COP26.
The event will see leaders from each country, thousands of negotiators, researchers, and citizens, also representatives from civil society, business, international organizations, and the media. The COP is hosted by a different country each year and this year it is hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, running from October 31 to November 12.
WHY COP26 IS SO IMPORTANT?
To understand why COP26 is so important we need to look back at COP21 which is when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.
What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris summit was the largest gathering of world leaders in history, since for the first time ever nearly every country agreed to work together to limit global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels while pursuing efforts to limit heating to 1.5°C.
The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom-up’ approach where countries themselves decide by how much they will reduce their emissions by a certain year. They communicate these targets to the UNFCCC in the form of ‘nationally determined contributions', or ‘NDCs’.
Since it was quite clear that NDCs were inadequate, therefore a “ratchet mechanism” was formed by which countries would have to return to the table every 5 years with fresh commitments.
COP26 marks the first 5-Year mark since 2015. This is a crucial moment for countries to review and update their NDCs and to address what has and hasn’t been achieved since 2015, while also setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets.
WHY 1.5 DEGREES?
An increase of 1.5°C would impact our ecosystems, our communities, and our livelihoods. It will result in the bleaching of coral reefs, rising sea levels, an increase in heatwaves, droughts, fiercer storms, floods, and other forms of extreme weather, but these would be far less than the extremes associated with a rise of 2°C.
1. Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
Net-zero is basically when the amount of greenhouse gas( such as CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, etc) being produced, is balanced by the amount removed from the atmosphere.
The UK has already committed to bringing 78% emission reductions by 2035 and is on the road to net-zero by 2050.
India has also taken important steps with its 450-gigawatt renewables target and national hydrogen mission.
The UNFCCC recommends that countries ‘accelerate the phase-out of coal, curtail deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables to meet this goal.
2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
Countries will work together to ‘protect and restore ecosystems and build defenses, warning systems, and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives.
3. Mobilise finance
To deliver on our first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilize at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020,” notes the UNFCCC.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK Secretary of State for International Trade said in a release: “With the impacts of COVID-19, it is vitally important we work together to scale up finance from all sources and improve access (to finance).
4. Work together to deliver
Another important task at the COP26 is to ‘finalize the Paris Rulebook’.
Leaders will work together to frame a list of detailed rules that will help fulfill the Paris Agreement.
WHY WE MUST ACT NOW?
There has already been an increase in the surface temperature of the planet by about 1°C since around 1850 by the Greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
The impacts of 1°C of warming are already being felt across the globe and will become more severe with additional warming.
To stay within the global carbon budget, each country needs to halve its current emissions by 2030 and reduce net global CO2 emissions to net-zero by 2050. This challenge can only be met if emissions reductions start now.
The August 2021 IPCC report has increased the pressure on COP26, as Sir David Attenborough says: “It is crucial that these meetings in Glasgow, COP26, have success and that at last, the nations will come together to solve the crippling problems that the world, the globe, now faces.”
WHEN WILL WE SEE THE CHANGE?
Any positive change will take a while to show and full impact won’t be seen for another 20-30 years. Talk of climate disasters and time running out is fearful to hear. But COP 26 is an ideal opportunity to unite and act together.
It won’t just be left to politicians, either. Thousands of young people, activists, and scientists will be adding their voice and keeping the eyes of the world firmly on Glasgow – and on any promises made there.
We all have a role to play to reduce emissions and help the planet by changing our behaviors – from what to eat and wear, to how we travel and heat our homes. And we can put pressure on businesses and government by what we buy, lobbying politicians, and how we vote.