COP26 in Glasgow in the face of the climate emergency
Faced with the acceleration of climate change, COP26 offers the international community an opportunity to take substantive measures. The challenge: to contain the rise in temperatures and achieve carbon neutrality.
COP26, the 26th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is being held in Glasgow from October 31st to November 12th. The conference opened against a backdrop marked by an ever more pressing sense of urgency on climate. Highly pessimistic projections the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) echo the climatic disasters which have recently affected the planet: exceptional flooding, devastating forest fires, accelerated sea ice melting, etc., and have caused irreversible damage to biodiversity.
On October 25th, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) on its end warned of record levels of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. The WMO concluded unequivocally that at the current rate, the rise in temperatures compared to the pre-industrial era cannot be contained between 1.5 and 2 degrees and is more likely to be around 4 degrees.
Increasing numbers of carbon neutrality targets announced
World leaders are being forced to set new goals. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has announced its target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, focusing on the development of a true circular carbon economy strategy, and has unveiled a plan to plant billions of trees in the coming decades. China has unveiled the same target, which must be achieved according to Beijing by reducing its consumption and production of coal and bringing the share of fossil fuels in its energy consumption down to no more than 25% by 2030.
Concerning the 27 members of the European Union, they have collectively committed to reducing GHG emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990) and to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. These commitments, formally established in the European “Fit for 55” package of regulations, encourage and provide incentives for regions, cities, and companies to get involved in reaching these targets. However, beyond these declarations, the Glasgow conference has to ensure that the decisions made are transposed into substantive measures to genuinely have an impact on climate change.
Mixed results from previous COPs
The stakes are much higher following the mixed results of the last conferences, which led to the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. This agreement, although undeniably ambitious on paper, failed to lead to the expected results: global warming does appear to be speeding up. Although the EU is trying to set a good example with its reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% in 2020 (compared to 1990), a 2019 report – the Brown to Green Report – points to nine G20 countries which have increased their production of fossil raw materials. In the same year, Global Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions reached a historic level of 59 billion tons of CO2 equivalent, a 5% increase compared to 2015.
Multiple challenges for COP26
In this context, the ambition of COP26 is to strengthen the ambitions of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), the climate plans for 2030 (or 2025 for some countries) adopted on a voluntary basis and subject to review every 5 years. At this stage, 147 States, accounting for 56% of global GHG emissions, have already updated their NDCs. Among them, 84 have moved towards even more ambitious targets than initially announced. One of the objectives of the conference is to involve more countries in this dynamic.
The discussions at COP26 must lead to substantive action or recommendations to improve the capacity of the countries most affected by these upheavals to cope with them. Also on the agenda is the increased funding for climate action, especially for developing countries. In 2009, the rich countries committed to providing 100 billion dollars per year in favor of developing countries to help them adapt to the effects of climate change. Today, this promise appears difficult to keep, even though the needs are forecasted to reach 300 billion dollars annually in 2030. Finally, the States will have to agree on technical matters in the Paris Agreement that are still unresolved due to a lack of consensus at the last COP25 in Madrid in 2019. Also on the agenda: substantial new announcements on funding and regulatory leads to curb the trend in the long term and more formal questions such as the deployment of new operating rules for carbon markets or the implementation of the transparency framework for climate reporting.
International community dedicated to finding an agreement
COP26 therefore brings complex negotiations to the table: between poor countries and rich countries, between producers and consumers of raw materials, etc. – many diverging interests are present. The debates are sure to the news’ main focus in the coming days.