COP26 summit: Humanity races against time on climate change

sustainable development debate
Sustainable development of energy and financial sectors will become the focus of economic growth discourse.

More than 100 world leaders will join COP26, the United Nations climate change negotiations, beginning on October 21 in the Scottish city of Glasgow. The deliberations on the future of the planet will conclude on November 12. The UN has been organising COPs every year since 1995. The conference could not be held last year because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

All the signatories of Paris Agreement, signed during the UN climate conference in 2015, had given firm commitments to act on climate change by reducing green-house gas emissions by 2030 to limit the rise in global average temperature to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial levels. The six years after the signing of the Paris Agreement saw some high-intensity climate action.

Most countries have agreed on firm targets to achieve net-zero emissions. In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its assessment report that contains a dire prediction that extreme climate events such as heat waves, droughts, and floods will become common in the coming years.

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The commitments made by countries to cut emissions — Nationally Determined Contributions — were found inadequate and could have pushed the world towards 3℃ warming by the turn of the century. This realisation pushed the nations to reviews every five years, and to stricter commitments to cut emissions. Rich nations such as the US, UK, European Union, Japan and Canada have adopted tougher emission targets after the Paris Agreement. Other big emitters China and India may come up with their renewed commitments at the COP26 summit.

Climate change summit agenda

First. Ensure that nations fulfil their commitments made before 2020. This is key to the success of the summit. Most importantly, the commitment by the rich nations to provide $100 billion financial support to developing countries by 2020. This commitment was made more than 10 years ago. Another important commitment by nations is to submit more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions.

Second. There is a need to wrap up all negotiations and implement the Paris pact. The ongoing negotiations include those on issues around Article 6 rules. It’s time parties ensured that the transparency framework under the Paris Agreement is ready. The leaders must also advance work in areas related to adaptation, resilience, and loss and damage.

Third. It is important to get countries commit to offer much more on all major aspects of climate action. They need to agree for ambitious, rapid, deep and sustained cuts in emissions. Only long-term strategies can get the world achieve climate neutrality by 2050. G20 could take the lead as it represents both rich and emerging economies. These largest emitters that are responsible for 80% of all emissions need to act fast to meet the 1.5-degree warming limit.

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Fourth. The summit must ensure that all voices are heard. Most such conferences are dominated by powerful lobbies representing regions, businesses, and investors. Inclusive multilateralism must succeed for the world nations to achieve the climate goals.

The UNFCCC has stated clearly that COP26 will look to achieve four major goals. The first goal is to ensure global net-zero by 2050 and keep 1.5 degrees warming limit achievable. Towards this, the UNFCCC wants countries to phase-out coal, stop deforestation, switch to electric vehicles and push investment in renewables energy.

The second goal of COP26 is to protect communities and natural habitats. The countries will need to work in tandem to protect and restore ecosystems to avoid loss of homes, lives and livelihoods. The first two goals cannot be achieved unless the rich countries ensured that annual climate finance to the tune of $100bn is available to developing countries. This is the third stated goal of the COP26 summit.

The final goal before the world leaders attending the summit is to finalise the Paris Rulebook. There is a need to frame concrete rules to ensure that the signatories are fulfilling the Paris climate agreement. The world cannot afford a repeat of recent extreme weather events like Amazon fires and powerful cyclones.