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COP26: What to expect from the climate summit in Glasgow

COP26: What to expect from the climate summit in Glasgow

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, is the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference. It is scheduled to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, between 31 October and 12 November 2021, under the co-presidency of the United Kingdom and Italy. The COP26 is touted to be the most crucial platform for global climate negotiations since the COP21 Paris. It is here that countries – from the most powerful to the most vulnerable – will decide the fate of the planet as we know it. And of greater importance is the fact that we enter these negotiations in the backdrop of extreme weather events that have claimed lives and displaced millions of people the world over, forcing them to migrate, denying them livelihoods, stability and the basic dignity of life.

So why is COP26 important?

COP is the ‘supreme decision making body’ of the UNFCCC. The meetings have been an annual occurrence since 1995. As of 2019, the UNFCCC has 197 member countries, and COP reviews the emission inventories of all the members to assess their progress in achieving the ‘objective of the Convention’. This is it’s 26th meeting.

COP26 is particularly special, as this conference is being looked at as our last chance to align our emission targets to limit global temperature increase to 1.5degrees – as was decided in the much-hyped Paris Agreement of 2015. COP26 is the deadline for when governments need to tell the world by how much they’re going to cut their emissions and update their NDCs or Nationally Determined Contributions. As things stand today, NDCs set so far fall way short of what we’ll need to stay under the 1.5C mark.

What should we watch out for at COP26?

1. Emission Cuts

This is a global problem and requires a global solution. The biggest historic emitters are the USA, China and Russia – with Japan, Germany and the UK also in the top ten. But ultimately, we need all countries and world leaders to move significantly faster than their current plans suggest. G20 countries account for nearly 80% of global emissions, but many of them are yet to boost their climate plans ahead of COP26.

‘Though it is an undeniable fact that anthropogenic climate change has a huge influence on extreme weather events, we should stop calling this a “human-induced” crisis when we know the fact that just 100 polluting producers are responsible for around 70% of global emissions. It is the rich countries and classes that have been historically responsible for emissions growth and they need to change their business and lifestyles if we are ever to tackle climate heating. We need to acknowledge that in society the most vulnerable communities are paying a higher price for impacts of climate change than the rich when they are not guilty of it in the first place.’ says Avinash Kumar Chanchal, Senior Program Specialist, Greenpeace India.

2. Climate Finance

In 2009, some of the most richest and powerful countries had agreed to provide climate finance of $100bn a year to help developing countries mitigate climate change impacts and transition to cleaner economies. This agreement, which was further reiterated in Paris 2015 has not been met.

Among the main developed countries and blocs that committed to delivering climate finance were the European Union, the United States, Britain, Japan, Canada and Australia. Right now, according to the OECD, they are $20bn short and need to do more.Alok Sharma, UK Cabinet minister, who will be COP26 President says that scaling up climate finance will be his top priority this year, quotes The Guardian.

Also, there is the Loss and Damage finance that is additional to the $100bn promised by developed nations. It takes into account the economic loss of developing countries due to their vulnerability and inability to mitigate and adapt to climate change. India, for example, has lost $87bn in the last year due to climate disasters like floods, cyclones and droughts, according to the World Meteorological Organisation. There is pressure for the world’s richest countries, who also account for a majority of the pollution, to assume the burden of loss and damage.

3. Article 6

Article 6 of 2015’s Paris Agreement is also a contentious topic as it is viewed as promoting cooperation between countries to slash emissions. But most countries and industries say Article 6 should give a green light to the creation of a global market in carbon offsets. Activists and environment campaign organisations like Greenpeace warn that offsetting is a dangerous scam, as it will just delay real action.

‘Offsetting doesn’t stop emissions entering the atmosphere and warming our world – it just stops those emissions appearing on the ledgers of the polluters.’ says a statement by Greenpeace.

4. Where does India stand?

South Asia has some of the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, including India. Multiple studies have pointed out that things are only going to get worse for the subcontinent. The latest IPCC report warns that India will experience more frequent and intense heat extremes, erratic rainfall events and more devastating cyclones. Frequent flash floods, flash droughts are found to have a direct correlation to warming over land, sea and the eco-sensitive Himalayan region.

However India, like several other developing countries is putting the country’s growing energy needs at its carbon reduction pathways. Days ahead of COP26, Bhupender Yadav, Union Environment Minister said that net-zero carbon emissions targets are not the solution to climate change and that rich countries should acknowledge their historic responsibility for their emissions.

India is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases but accounts for only 4% of the historic contributions. ‘In relative terms, India has made promises to move towards clean energy. Recently the country crossed 100GW installation of renewable energy while 50GW is under installation, and 27 GW is under tendering. In the solar sector, it is taking a leadership role by institutionalizing the International Solar Alliance that supports developing countries to increase their solar capacity. But at the same time, the country has not committed to any absolute emission reduction target or even given a clear date for fossil fuel peak. As of September 2021 coal still accounted for nearly 50% of the total installed capacity in power generation.’ says Avinash.

Environmental activists have also called on India to announce a just, legally-accountable energy transition strategy to phase out coal energy in a manner that discourages future investments in coal. We are also behind on our rooftop solar installation target of 40GW by 2022, so speeding up the installations to achieve the set target should be priority.

The ticking time bomb

According to the IPCC, to give ourselves a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the amount of CO2 we can still emit is around 500 billion tonnes, counted from the beginning of 2020. But currently human activities are emitting over 40 billion tonnes a year. That means, at the end of 2021 we would have already consumed 16% of the limit. To give us a fighting chance, we need to see action that will halve global emissions by 2030 and set us on a pathway to Net Zero emissions by 2050.

So, the challenge is immense.

If governments fail to upgrade their NDCs they will close the door on the possibility of achieving 1.5C. Current pledges show emissions rising by 16% by 2030, putting us on track for 2.7C, or worse off even 2.9C, that will have catastrophic consequences.

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