The COP26 summit on climate change is just around the corner. Here are some things to look forward to
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On Sunday, a climate extravaganza is set to begin in Glasgow, Scotland. The President Biden will be there. Other world leaders, as well as a small number of business executives, activists and diplomats from around the globe will also be present. It is billed as a turning point in the fight to avert the worst impacts of climate change and has a strange name: COP26.
Is it worth all the hype? What could it do? Here are the facts.
The climate meetings were established in 1992 when the countries signed a treaty that would stabilize the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases and prevent any dangerous climate changes. The parties to the agreement have met almost every year to discuss what needs to be done. This is called the Conference of Parties (or COP). This is the 26th such meeting. This is COP26.
Amazing people. Saleemul Huq from the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (Bangladesh) has attended every COP. The meeting is a "multi-ring circus," he says. The innermost ring will be populated by blue-badged diplomats representing almost 200 countries. They will discuss the form of the statement released at the end of the meeting, which includes any actual decisions. Celebrities, academic researchers, and industry groups will flood other venues in Glasgow. Protests are possible. It will be like a combination of a Congress session, a trade fair and a demonstration political all in one.
The main objective is to fulfill the six-year-old promises made at COP21 in Paris. The Paris Agreement required that countries commit to reducing their collective greenhouse gas emissions by 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times. To help poorer countries cope with climate change, wealthy nations promised to provide large amounts of assistance.
At best, progress towards these goals has been slow. Scientists now believe that planetary heating is increasing, leading to more intense heat waves and storms as well as the destruction of ecosystems. There is pressure for bolder action. Already, the planet has warmed by one degree Celsius. To keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius, it will be necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly and dramatically. This would bring them down to practically zero in 30 years.
Christiana Figueres (previously the UN climate chief) said, "I'm optimistic. But not in a foolish sense. Because the conditions for these are extraordinarily difficult." This is extremely difficult. But, do we really need to make this a success? Yes. We don't have the luxury or option of failing."
Q. Q. Will diplomats be able to sit down at a table and discuss limits on their country's greenhouse gas emissions?
But not exactly. This is because the Paris Agreement provided a new way to achieve this goal. It's like a GoFundMe except it works for the planet. Each country contributes their plans to reduce heat-trapping emissions. The U.N. adds them all together and determines if the sum is sufficient or, as of now, if there is a gap between these plans and what climate scientists believe is necessary to avoid the most devastating effects.
The Glasgow meeting forces countries to announce their plans to reduce emissions and possibly go further. Figueres says that this is "arguably the most important conference of the Parties since 2015", when the Paris Agreement was signed. "We will [go] around, and we'll be transparent with one another. We will share what we did. We will do more.
Rachel Kyte is the dean of Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She says that private companies and philanthropists feel similar pressure. Kyte says that the event "has an effect" and is currently advising the United Kingdom regarding aspects of the climate negotiations. "There is a lot of pressure from civil society. From investors to politicians to bring something to Glasgow. People want to be seen doing the right thing.
Poorly. At a rapid rate, greenhouse gases continue to enter the atmosphere. Global emissions will continue to rise despite the countries' plans since Paris. The Climate Action Tracker nonprofit found that major polluting nations have submitted plans that are either inadequate or very insufficient. These include Australia, Brazil, India, Brazil, China and Brazil.
Recent improvements to the U.S. rating have resulted in it being merely "insufficient." It promised earlier this year to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 (compared to 2005 levels) and to provide $10 billion per year in climate-focused economic assistance to low-income countries. These are only promises at the moment. It's becoming increasingly clear that Congress will not pass legislation like the Clean Electricity Performance Program that would achieve this.
The promises made by nations regarding climate finance, the stream of money to help poorer countries cope with the effects of a warming environment, have also been broken. Although developing nations do not emit large amounts of heat-trapping pollutants, they still experience its effects and have less resources to deal with it.
"We are not on the right track. It isn't happening. It's not happening. Saleemul Huq says that this is the truth.
However, there is some good news. According to the International Energy Agency's latest estimates, if all countries fulfill their climate pledges, then the global greenhouse emission curve will eventually begin to fall. This scenario would see average global temperatures rise by 3.7 degrees Fahrenheit over pre-industrial levels before the end of this century. (These average temperatures have already increased by approximately two degrees Fahrenheit. Figueres states that "we are making progress." "We are not at the level we should be, however we are moving in the right direction."
The final statement of the meeting will be drafted by negotiators, which will be subject to dispute. Experts in climate change hope that the meeting will "send an indication" that countries understand the importance of cutting emissions to achieve their goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Many poorer countries in Africa will press for financial aid commitments to address climate-related disasters. Chukwumerije OKereke, the director of the Centre for Climate Change and Development in Nigeria, said that "poor countries are not responsible for these problems." It's been sent to them by developed nations, and they are having to deal it with very little help.
These countries claim that the previous commitments of $100 billion per year for "climate finance" are still inadequate.
Negotiators will also be working out the final details of "The Paris Rulebook". These rules include how countries should report their emission targets, and how a system called "carbon markets" could work. This is where one country can buy emissions reductions from another.
Rachel Kyte believes that one thing is certain. After COP26 is finished, there will still be a lot of work. People think the COP is akin to the World Series. She believes that there will be some walk-off home runs from China or the U.S., but it is not." It's almost like an Iditarod. It's a long, tedious, and sometimes exhausting journey with many huskies.