What is COP26?
In short, COP26 is a climate change conference organised by the United Nations to which every nation on earth is invited. The acronym stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and this year leaders are headed to Glasgow, Scotland.
You might have heard of a couple of previous COPs. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol (at COP3 in Japan) was an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions signed by nearly 200 countries. In 2015, COP21’s Paris Agreement saw countries agreeing to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and to make money available to deliver on these aims. The target was net zero by 2050.
Why do we need another COP this year?
Because of the existential threat of climate change and because, but for COVID, this would have taken place last year.
The Paris Agreement stipulated that fossil fuel production and consumption needed to be reduced and cleaner energies accelerated. Whilst this is already happening, the kind of monumental change required simply isn’t happening fast enough.
To meet the legally-binding Paris goals, countries committed to national targets (NDCs) to cut – or reduce the growth of – emissions. It has become clear that those NDCs don’t go far enough. Many scientists warn that 2050 will be too late, with emissions needing to half by 2030 in order to achieve the global 1.5 degrees target.
So, six years after Paris, new radically ambitious national targets are being sought from governments across the world.
What needs to be agreed?
Essentially more urgent action to reduce global warming and therefore climate change. Individual governments will need to submit significantly more ambitious national targets that collectively put us back on track for the 1.5 degrees target (not 2 degrees) and to do so in a shorter timeframe (by 2030, not 2050).
Leaders must also phase out coal, curtail deforestation, accelerate the switch to electrical vehicles, and encourage investment in renewable energy.
There’s also plenty more that needs to be done: protect natural ecosystems, build climate-resilient agriculture and infrastructure and, maybe most importantly, get the money flowing needed to do it.
Developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year. They failed to keep to their word in 2019. Climate justice is a potentially thorny issue to gain a global consensus on, with many of the countries and communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change being those who have contributed least to emissions. They are also the ones having to fork out to protect themselves from rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, loss of livelihoods and biodiversity, and other effects of climate change.
With or without an agreement, what chance do we have to mitigate climate change?
Although she is attending, Greta Thunberg is on record as saying she is not optimistic about the conference achieving anything. With leaked documents revealing that Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia asked the UN to downplay the need to move away from fossil fuels (Japan and Australia also submitted uninspiring NDCs), it is clear that radical commitment is anything but universal – even though the science is clear.
On the other hand, US President Joe Biden has pledged $2tn to promote electric vehicles and improve housing, and wants to phase out fossil fuels within 15 years.
“We have left it astonishingly late to take meaningful action on climate,” Jeremy Oppenheim, Co-Founder of SYSTEMIQ said. “But there is real progress. We need to attach ourselves to the areas of progress and figure out how we really scale them at speed.
“Almost all the actions that we need to take are choices,” he added, speaking at The Conduit in advance of a new climate-focussed podcast series that he’ll be contributing to called ‘Ahead of The Curve’, “if we want this to be a decisive and radical decade, all the choices that we’re making – not just some of them – have profound implications on whether we solve this issue.”
Who is going to be there?
Perhaps it’s most pertinent to start with who’s not going to be there. At the time of writing, Russian President Putin is not going and China’s Xi Jinping is unlikely to attend. Russia is the world’s fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, China the first. Whilst their absence doesn’t mean agreements won’t be reached, their presence would send a strong message to the international community about their commitment to reducing emissions.
More than 120 leaders have committed to being there in Glasgow, including President Biden who rejoined following Trump’s dramatic withdrawal. However, it’s not just world leaders and ministers who will be in attendance with their teams of negotiators. Representatives from civil society organisations, international organisations, business leaders, and the world’s media will also be present. As will The Conduit.
What will The Conduit be doing there?
As a community, sustainability is at the heart of everything we do. In Glasgow, we will be supporting our members and partners by convening them to forge connections whilst amplifying the conversations and ideas that drive change.
The Conduit will broadcast live from its very own studio in The New York Times Climate Hub during COP26, to inform and inspire audiences across the globe on climate action and share key updates from the conference.
Working with our partners at Julius Baer, SYSTEMIQ, and DLA Piper, through a combination of live streams, podcasts, and other digital content, The Conduit will share the most insightful thought leadership on sustainability and climate action.
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