In November, global leaders will meet to discuss the plans of cities and countries to adapt and mitigate climate change. The 26th edition of this annual meeting, officially known as the “Conference of the Parties” or COP, will take place in an atmosphere of justified global alarm. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently warned that changes triggered by runaway carbon emissions—including global sea level rise, increasing wildfires, and extreme heat—are already “irreversible for centuries to millennia.” Failure to act immediately will accelerate those dangers, which is why every fraction of degree is crucial when it comes to limiting global temperature rise and why reducing emissions from every major source matters.
COP26, which takes place in Glasgow, offers countries the best chance to commit to solutions in years: deep cuts in carbon emission, the expansion and use of renewable energy, modernization and modernization in transportation systems, equity investments for low-income countries, communities and more.
Will leaders seize this chance or will another year pass with no action? It all depends on what’s happening right now, in negotiating rooms around the world. We need to understand the process by looking back at some history.
Decades of Delays
In 1995, the United Nations hosted the first Conference of the Parties. COP1 ended with the Berlin MandateThe Kyoto Protocol’s precursor, the Berlin Mandate. The Berlin Mandate urged world leaders not to stop talking, but rejected plans to make legally binding targets or timetables for carbon emission reductions. This crucial decision was repeated throughout COP after COP where large emitters, including the United States of America, refused to commit to specific, accountable limits on their greenhouse gases emissions.
These “bad COPs” continued until we finally got a “good COP” in 2015. The international community agreed to a new process at COP21 in Paris. Every country in the world would announce a target for emissions reductions by 2020 or 2030. The targets would not be legally enforceable—a limitation largely the result of political gridlock in the United States—but each nation’s success or failure would be measurable and comparable, providing diplomatic and peer accountability for the first time.
The 2015 commitments were a strong foundation, but even then it was clear that the countries’ emissions targets were inadequate. Recent research suggests that the current international commitments would increase greenhouse gases emissions by about 16 percentComparing 2010 to 2030, this is a far cry from the approximately 45 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions required to keep the world below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Significantly, the Paris AgreementIt was built with a ratcheting mechanism. All countries agreed to tighten their emission commitments every five-years, assuming that technological advancements and greater political will were in the future.
Strengthening emissions targets has become a major test of a country’s commitment to tackling climate change. Many major emitters have not increased their ambitions or are taking steps backwards. Brazil’s recently announced plan, for example, is weaker thanIts 2015 promise. International observers believe that the country is not on track even to fulfill its 2015 promise. Russia is another problem emitter. The country’s carbon emissions (the fourth largest in the world) are on track to rise for decades, with the government arguing incorrectly that carbon absorption by Russia’s forests and swamps will offset these increases.
“COP26 has to be a moment of acceleration to put us on track to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming,” says Brendan Guy, NRDC’s lead strategist on international climate. “We need commitments and actions for this decade, not decades in the future.”
The 2020 deadline was set for the first major improvement, five years after COP21. However, the COVID-19 epidemic set the date back to this particular year. That’s why COP26 is such a crucial event.
Strenging the Targets
This year’s COP, however, will be nothing like the dramatic 2015 conference. The outcome of Paris was not clear until the very end. The agreement was reached in real-time by diplomats, negotiators and civil society groups (including NRDC), as well as industrial leaders and other leaders.
The stakes for COP26 are just as high, but most of this drama has been taking place before the meeting. As you read this, diplomats from the world’s major emitters are negotiating among themselves and with representatives from lower-emitting countries, while environmental groups and others encourage them to make stronger commitments to reduce carbon pollution. Most of these targets will have been settled by the time that the delegates arrive in Glasgow, October 31st. They will then be ready for ceremonial announcement from the podium.
So what are we able to hope for? And what can we expect from the COP26 conference? British Prime Minister Boris Johnson describes the goal as “coal, cars, cash, and trees,” and that’s a pretty good summary.
We must immediately stop mining and burning coal as an indefensible source of dirty energy. The United States has been moving in a positive direction. cutting coal consumptionThe past decade has seen a reduction of roughly half the number of coal-fired industrial revolutions. The United Kingdom, host for COP26 and birthplace of the coal fired industrial revolution in 1800s, now produces less than 2 percent Because of its coal-based power. To avoid catastrophic climate change, more progress is needed. Civil society groups are pushing wealthy countries to phase out coal by 2030 to avoid any further damage.
Already, vehicle emissions account for approximately 15 percentGlobal carbon pollution is increasing faster than any other sector, and transportation emissions are rising at a faster rate than any other. To combat climate change and promote public safety, it is essential to phase out the internal combustion engine. Although some markets are already moving towards zero-emission cars, it will take strong policies from countries and cities to phase out gas-powered vehicles by 2035. This will encourage innovation among manufacturers, reduce emissions, and encourage savings for consumers.
Carbon cuts are a complex equity issue. The two-century-old industrial revolution made huge profits by releasing large amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. These riches placed them in a stronger position to adapt and mitigate the climate change they fueled. Low-income countries are more likely be affected by a problem they didn’t cause. To address this issue the biggest emitters committed $100 billion per year starting in 2020 to help other countries reach their goals and adapt to climate impacts. Unfortunately, the number of donors is only approximately $20 billion shortTheir promise. At COP26, rich countries must demonstrate their confidence in the ability to fulfill their long-standing cash commitment each year until 2025.
Combating deforestation was a priority critical pieceParis Agreement and the landmark agreement established financial incentives for countries that preserve forests. These forests are vital carbon sinks. However, in 2018, forest loss was still a significant problem. 8 percentof global carbon emissions. Particular danger is the Amazon rainforest. In 2019, deforestation surpassed an alarming level. 11-year highBrazil and increased by 25 percent the next year. The signatories to the Paris Agreement now face a critical moment: What will they do to make meaningful progress toward protecting the world’s most important carbon sinks so that their commitments are more than just paper?
“A strong outcome would be 2030 targets from all G20 countries to reduce emissions and keep the door open to 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with concrete policies to achieve those targets,” says Guy. “Plus a set of commitments and signals coming from major economic sectors. For example, transportation must promise 100 percent zero emission vehicle sales by 2030. Energy must be banished from history. And, let’s not forget, we need the money that was promised more than a decade ago.”
Now that you are aware of what to expect at COP26, keep watching. The future of the globe hangs in balance.
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