COP 26 just around the corner

Will this COP be up to the task?

A climate protester holds a banner outside the Houses of Parliament in London, UK, on 25 October 2021, ahead of the COP26 UN conference to be hosted by Glasgow, Scotland. © Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP

As we approach COP 26, the race is on to move from talking and acknowledging the problem to acting on the Paris commitments. There is much to do and little time to do it. The goal is to bring global warming to between 1.5 and 2 ºC above pre-industrial levels. However, we have already reached a warming of 1.1 degrees and, if we continue with business as usual, we will reach a warming of 2.7 degrees by the end of the century. Negotiations will also be held on the Paris Agreement rulebook to track progress towards each party's Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to ensure the transparency and environmental integrity of international carbon markets. Parties will also work on the future of climate finance beyond 2025.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been held every year since 1995. The two-week conferences are an important space for stakeholders to discuss the global climate crisis. These annual conferences bring together states that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an international environmental treaty that addresses climate change. There are many COPs of other UN treaties but this is the best known. Indeed, many nations of the world are involved, a total of 197 signatory parties. In addition, COPs bring together many other civil society actors, such as environmental NGOs (WWF, Greenpeace), youth associations, universities, businesses, and local authorities. Thus, every year, representatives from all the countries of the world meet to discuss action against climate change in what is known as the COP. The last COP (COP25) was held in Madrid in December 2019. COP26 was due to be held in Glasgow (UK) last year, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and will finally take place from 1-12 November 2021.

Due to COVID, COP26 will have many online events, although there will also be meetings with a physical presence, with the appropriate health precautions. There are two different venues for the event: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is managed by the United Nations and hosts the official negotiations, bringing together delegates and observers through discussions, exhibitions and cultural activities. The Green Zone is run by the British Government and is designed as a platform for the public, artists, academics, etc., to encourage popular participation and promote conversations around climate change. I am lucky enough to attend COP26 during the second week and to participate as one of the panellists at the EU event "Climate Change: How to think, how to talk, how to act" together with other ambassadors of the European Climate Pact and the Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr Timmermans.

The first week of the COP will see the world leaders' summit (1-2 November) followed by discussions by government officials on technical issues such as carbon credits, financing for countries vulnerable to climate change and nature-based solutions. In the second week, adaptation, green cities and urbanism, gender, science and innovation will be discussed. At the end of intense negotiations, states are expected to reach agreements that are sufficiently ambitious.

There are several reasons why COP26 is so important. 

Firstly, the pandemic has delayed the holding of COP26, in a context in which it is increasingly urgent to find solutions to climate change which, with floods, droughts, fires and heat waves, is evident in all corners of the planet. The problems to be solved have been accumulating and expectations have been rising.

COVID19 has raised the alarm bells of an increasingly unsustainable world and refocused priorities. The cascade of crises in recent years has made us all more vigilant about global emergencies, and climate change is one of them. The pandemic has changed the pace of our lives and has made people and governments alike value and pay more attention to the environment. As many countries try to rebuild their economies in the wake of the pandemic, there has been a strong emphasis on "building back better" through ecological recovery.

Thirdly, COP26 is seen as the successor to COP21, where the Paris Agreement, arguably the UNFCCC's greatest success in recent years, was signed. COP26 will have to review the new commitments submitted by states after 5 years. The summit should address both what has been achieved and what has not been achieved since 2015, while setting out concrete plans to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. COP21 is considered to be the first summit where real and concrete commitments were made by all signatory countries. There it was agreed that carbon emissions must be reduced to prevent global warming, which means that the temperature increase must be controlled and limited to less than 2 degrees Celsius, but ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The signatories also agreed to submit national targets for reducing greenhouse gases. 

Fourthly, COP26 is the first COP to be attended by the United States after it rejoined the Paris Agreement. It is to be hoped that, under the leadership of Joe Biden, the United States will pursue a more ambitious environmental diplomacy that will contribute to a more favourable dynamic for international consensus than that which existed under the Trump presidency, which was responsible for the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. 

Finally, the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published in August 2021, has made it very clear that, if we want to respect the limit of temperature increase established in the Paris Agreement, it is necessary that all States take courageous measures to limit warming. Business as usual will lead us to the abyss.

Despite high expectations, not all countries have been able or willing to send their highest representatives to COP26. Chinese President Xi Jinping is unlikely to attend, which has been a major blow to the COP organisers. Putin has announced that he will not participate, citing an alarming pandemic situation in Russia. And a third of the Pacific islands will not be represented by members of their governments. The reasons are varied and range from an unwillingness to make further concessions to COVID travel restrictions that sometimes require lengthy quarantines.

In conclusion, Glasgow will present an opportunity to assess each signatory country's performance on this collective goal to save the Earth. However, experts have warned that if governments do not act now, it will be too late and impossible to reach the emissions reduction target. So it is hoped that the Glasgow declaration (when the summit and the long negotiation closes) will contain sufficient progress and a roadmap serious enough to be a real turning point. Let's hope that COP26 does not disappoint... 

Carmen Marqués Ruiz in collaboration with Luna Valls Marqués

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