All Eyes on COP26 – What’s the Significance for Climate Action?
With the rapidly changing climate scenario, the climate summit has a crucial role to play in the fight against climate crisis
The biggest climate summit of the year is about to begin and speculations of what is to happen have already started. While some say that this is the planet’s last best shot for climate action, some fear the COP26 will be less ambitious than hoped. COP26 holds a certain significance in the fight against climate crisis as it is bound to make some major changes.
Initially slated for November 2020, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, between October 31st and November 1st 2021, under the co-presidency of the United Kingdom and Italy. It was earlier postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The summit is seen as a crucial step if climate change is to be brought under control before it is too late to act.
The latest IPCC report painted a grim picture with nothing but a diminishing glimmer of hope. With scientific community concluding that average global temperature is very much likely to exceed the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold above the pre-industrial levels in the next couple of decades, the picture is getting grimmer. The reason behind this catastrophic development unequivocally is the human-generated carbon emissions.
Moreover, the increasing temperatures will bring about more extreme weather events happening more frequently than before, such as the world will face more intense hurricanes, more powerful floods, and more raging fires and more severe droughts. These events will in turn have a devastating effect on ecosystems, livelihoods and life all over the planet.
It is, however, possible to lessen the impacts of these phenomena by taking immediate and urgent action. That is where COP26 comes in as an important summit, which will determine the further course of action on climate change.
What is COP26?
COP26 is being labeled as the world’s best last chance to get a grip over climate crisis. In the times of crisis, it has become the biggest and the most important climate conference on the planet.
Since 1995, the UN has organized an annual summit that brings representatives from almost all the countries on the globe to discuss climate targets and development on reducing emissions.
Formally known as a “conference of the parties,” COP meetings include over 190 UN members that have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. It was the world’s first important milestone that recognized and made the first commitment to mitigate climate change.
After that, the most critical climate change treaty is the Paris Agreement (COP21). In COP26, the parties are expected to commit to enhanced targets since COP21.
Apparently, to keep temperature rise under the 2 degrees Celsius agreed to by the UN signatories in the 2015 Paris Agreement, nations require to act quick and double down on commitments to reach net zero-emissions as soon as possible.
Why is this summit significant?
The world is warming up with the continued use of fossil fuels and the resultant greenhouse gas emissions. Extreme weather events linked to climate crisis, including heatwaves, floods, droughts and wildfires, are intensifying. The past decade has been the warmest on the recorded history, prompting governments to agree on urgent collective action.
The summit will bring the signatories of the Paris Agreement together to discuss updated National Determined Contributions (NDCs). It will also signify the need to diminish and eradicate the usage of fossil fuels.
According to a report, the biggest emitters of carbon are China, the US, India, Russia and Japan, while the European Union countries together rank as the third biggest emitter.
Some nations have taken the lead, paving the way toward a zero-emission future with some ambitious targets. After rejoining the Paris Agreement, the US government has put forward one of the most determined emission reduction targets, though it is still not enough to limit the warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Meanwhile, the UK also submitted a 2030 goal of emission reductions, keeping with reaching net zero by 2050.
The conference will also focus on climate injustice – as not everybody contributed to climate change and emissions equally, but everybody is getting affected somehow.
Developed countries burned plenty of fossil fuels during and after the industrial revolution, which released extreme amounts of carbon and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Underdeveloped and developing countries did not contribute the same level of emissions and yet they are bearing the brunt of climate crisis the most.
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Key Points Expected to be discussed
Most nations are expected to present their plans to reduce emissions. The two-week conference could bring about many new announcements to the table. Many are predicted to be technical, including rules still needed to impose the Paris Agreement. Every nation will be needed to sign up to some specific commitments.
However, some other announcements could include making a faster transition to electric vehicles, escalated phasing out of fossils fuels, reduction in tree cutting and climate finance for adaptation and mitigation for people invulnerable regions.
Experts have speculated that there will be a lot of talk about financial aid and climate justice. Although developing countries tend to pollute less per head of population and are not responsible for most emissions in the past, they are the worst-hit by climate change.
These regions need money to help cope with climate change. The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy resources can be a powerful defense system.
In 2009, rich countries vowed to pay $100 billion a year to help poorer countries by 2020 – a goal that still has not been met and could extend to 2023.
It is notable that a close attention will be paid to China and India’s NDCs.
As the world’s biggest polluter and coal investor all over the world, China’s commitments at COP26 hold a certain significance. Another big polluter, India is yet to commit to new NDCs but the nation might reveal its pledge at the summit.
Who is attending?
Representatives from 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions by 2030. Up to 25,000 people are expected to attend the summit in Glasgow, which will include world leaders, environmentalists, negotiators and journalists.
Many campaigners and businesses will also be making an appearance to hold various events, network and hold protests.
The high-profile and socially influential attendees include US President Joe Biden, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, climate activist Greta Thunberg, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Unfortunately, a third of Pacific small island states and territories will not be joining the summit due to the coronavirus restrictions.
Experts say the presence of the countries most affected by the climate crisis is key to pressuring leaders to agree to more aggressive targets and immediate action.
The lack of high-level representation of these nations has raised the fear that the concerns of these countries will not be appropriately voiced at the summit, which could downplay the entire thing and make the summit less successful.
The event is yet to take place, however, the criticism over it is already in the air. Earlier this month, when asked about the outcome of the conference, young climate activist Greta Thunberg said that nothing has changed so far and she is unsure that this summit will change anything either.
Queen Elizabeth II had similar concerns about the conference where she said that with all talk and no action, nothing will ever change.
While the world has many expectations from the COP26, the skepticism is not in vain. Yes, COP21 aka the Paris Agreement did set some milestones, but the targets set in that summit have been barely achieved. It does make one question the outcome of COP26 as well.
It has been dubbed as the last best chance the world has to control the climate crisis, but will it succeed – only time will tell!