2021 has been described as a “make or break year" for the efforts to counter climate change and all eyes are on the COP26 meet that is set to get underway at Glasgow from October 31, which is also to be attended by PM Narendra Modi. Here’s why the summit is being called the “world’s last best chance to get runaway climate change under control".
What Is COP26?
So, first the basics: COP stands for Conference of Parties and it will be the 26th meeting of all the countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which came into force in 1994. The first of the annual COP meets was held in Berlin in 1995 and, after a gap year in 2020 due to the pandemic, COP26 is now set to commence on October 31 in Glasgow in UK’s Scotland. COP26 is being hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy.
The COP26 summit comes five years (leaving out the gap year) after the historic COP21 in Paris in 2015, where virtually all the countries of the world committed to keeping global temperature rise to below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels or, ideally, to below 1.5 degrees. Pre-industrial means before the Industrial Revolution, which led to the birth of factories and mechanisation, got underway in Britain in the mid-1700s.
However, while the Paris agreement allowed countries to shape their own commitments on actions to reduce emissions — called nationally determined contributions (NDC) — these have been deemed to have been inadequate for the achieving the ambitious goal set at COP21.
What Was The Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement marked the first time that countries agreed to limit global warming by entering into a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It has so far been ratified by 192 parties — 197 parties had initially endorsed it — including the European Union (EU) bloc of 27 countries.
The centrepiece of the agreement to limit average global temperature rise to below 2 degrees, preferably 1.5 degrees, above pre-industrial levels are the NDCs that countries committed to pursue to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
Apart from mitigation — which covers the pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the NDCs — the Paris Agreement had also seen countries agree on actions towards adaptation, that is, for responding to the impacts of climate change and to loss and damage as a result of climate catastrophe. Finally, the Paris Agreement also mandated that wealthier countries would extend finance and knowhow to help poor, vulnerable countries tackle climate change.
Why Is COP26 Important?
Although the Paris Agreement adopted ambitious goals, the years since have shown that countries have failed its terms in both goals set and targets achieved. That is, while the NDCs were inadequate to keep global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels, countries also crimped on the implementation of their green pledges as part of the Paris Agreement. The US under former president Donald Trump had even exited the agreement, though it has now joined back under his successor Joe Biden, who will be one of the high-profile attendees at the Glasgow meet.
The Glasgow meet has been described as the “last best chance to get runaway climate change under control" after reports showed that the world is nowehere close to keeping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by the end of this century, to do which global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach ‘net-zero’ by 2050.
‘Net zero’ emissions means a situation where the amount of greenhouse gasses produced is the same as the amount that is removed from the atmosphere, by employing strategies like the planting of trees and deploying advanced technologies to capture carbon dioxide.
“We are still significantly off-schedule to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This year has seen fossil fuel emissions bounce back, greenhouse gas concentrations continuing to rise and severe human-enhanced weather events that have affected health, lives and livelihoods on every continent," UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said earlier this year, urging that without “immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees will be impossible".
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN body, warned in a report earlier in 2021 that whatever mitigation strategies are being currently pursued won’t prevent the world from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius of temperature rise, which could happen as soon as in the next two decades. It said that ambitious emission cuts are needed to limit temperature rise in terms of the Paris Agreement. And that is what makes the Glasgow meet so crucial in the fight against climate change.
What Is On The Agenda At COP26?
While thrashing out the Paris Agreement, it was agreed that NDCs submitted by the countries would be reviewed every five years so as to reflect countries’ “highest possible ambition at that time" on curbing emissions. The first of those five-yearly reviews is slated to be done at Glasgow, where countries will be urged to massively ratchet up actions and efforts to keep emissions down and transition to green economies.
The COP26 meet, in fact, would also have the task of finalising and adopting the rules for the implementation and operationalisation of the Paris Agreement.
According to the COP26 website, the key element of the summit’s agenda involves getting countries to “come
forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets (NDCs) that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century". To that end, it says, they “will need to accelerate the phaseout of coal, encourage investment
in renewables, curtail deforestation and speed up the switch to electric vehicles".
Given that some impacts of climate change are already upon us in the form of extreme weather events, discussions at COP26 would also focus on ensuring that affected countries take steps to “protect and restore ecosystems, build defences, put warning systems in place and make infrastructure and agriculture more resilient to avoid loss
of homes, livelihoods and lives".
But achieving whatever climate goals have been decided, and will be decided, requires funding, and the Glasgow meet will seek to secure assurances from developed countries that they will deliver the USD 100 billion in yearly funds for climate actions that they have promised for protecting the environment. Developed countries have so far failed to extend the entire sum and that, experts say, has served to undermine poorer countries’ actions and commitments on climate change. Ensuring the flow of the needed funds for mitigation and meeting climate exigencies will be a key part of the discussions at Glasgow.
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