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The fate of the Earth depends on the next few Days of complex diplomacy at Glasgow. Here’s what must be done.
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The fate of the Earth depends on the next few Days of complex diplomacy at Glasgow. Here’s what must be done.

The fate of our planet depends on the next few days of complex diplomacy in Glasgow. Here's what needs to go right


A new, grim projection was released overnight by Climate Action Tracker, has dashed the cautious optimism following last week’s commitments at the UN climate talks in Glasgow. It found the the world is still headed for 2.1℃ of warming this century, even if all pledges are met.

Similar analysis from Climate Analytics suggests if global warming is to be limited to 1.5℃, an enormous ambition gap remains for this decade.

National leaders shared their plans last week to reduce carbon pollution and transition to a net zero emissions economy. Some countries made more ambitious pledges than others. The UK for example, as summit hosts, pledged to cut emissions by 68% this decade, while Australia – a clear laggard among developed countries – refused to strengthen the target it set in 2015 to cut emissions by 26-28% by 2030.

National announcements together show that the world has made some progress in the climate negotiations since 2015. However, it is not enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. What is the next step in closing the ambition gap at COP26?

This is the decade of global ambition

While most world leaders have headed home, negotiators remain locked in late night talks aimed at securing a “Glasgow Package”, including a final political outcome that will keep the goals of the Paris Agreement in reach. Their discussions now focus on a political outcome that will accelerate climate change action this decade.

The 2015 Paris Agreement requires countries to set new and more ambitious targets to reduce emissions every five years, and national pledges aren’t due again until 2025. But if the world is to keep the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ in reach, countries will need to increase ambition before then.

More than 100 countries have called for Glasgow to be strengthened to allow countries like Australia to set new 2030 targets. Although these proposals are supported by major powers, such as the United States, it will not be easy to achieve consensus for an ambitious Glasgow package.

The current 2030 targets (without long-term pledges) put us on track for a 2.4°C temperature increase by the end of the century.
Climate Action Tracker

The good news? Countries have made greater commitments to climate action than in 2015. This provides hope that the Paris Agreement – which requires stronger commitments over time – is working.

Last week projections from the International Energy Agency suggested that, if they are fully funded and implemented, Glasgow commitments give the world a 50% chance to limit warming to 1.8℃ this century.

But what’s the bad news? This is a big “if”. Earth is still on course for catastrophic climate change. Emissions are projected. rebound strongly in 2021(After a remarkable drop in 2020 due to the global pandemic).

Indeed, alongside the sobering findings overnight that we’re still on track for at least 2.1℃ global warming, the UN Environment Programme updated its Emissions Gap Report. Taking last week’s pledges into account, it found we’re on track to reduce global emissions by just 8% by 2030, falling well short of the 55% reduction needed to keep global warming to below 1.5℃.

COP26: Delegates and participants gather around Little Amal (the giant, living art of a young Syrian refugee child who will travel 8,000km in 2021 to support refugees).

Limiting warming to 1.5℃ this century is key to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, and is a matter of survival for some Pacific island nations.

In Glasgow, groupings of countries at the frontline of climate change – including 55 members of the Climate Vulnerable Forum48 Least Developed Countries, and 39 other members of the Alliance of Small Island States – have put forward proposals that would require accelerated emissions cuts this decade.

These proposals have received support from key developed countries, including the United States, as part the High Ambition Coalition – a grouping of countries that unites developed and developing nations which have traditionally not acted in concert.

This coalition was critical to the security of the 2015 Paris Agreement. It was last week. stressed the need to halve global emissions by 2030, and called on parties to deliver more ambitious national commitments well before COP27 “in line with a 1.5℃ trajectory”.

This gives Glasgow renewed hope that he will deliver a political outcome which will require countries to increase short-term climate actions.

A child walks on a beach in Tuvalu

Developing countries are seeking renewed commitments to climate finance.
AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Finding a ‘landing zone’ for a Glasgow deal

The COP26 presidency has tasked the nations of Grenada and Denmark with finding a landing zone for a Glasgow decision that would “keep 1.5℃ alive”. Denmark released an October report. summaryThey held consultations with country negotiators up to that point.

It offered several options, including:

  • A requirement that countries who have not submitted enhanced targets in 2022 be submitted by the deadline

  • An annual review of the pre-2030 ambition

  • A high-level conference to discuss 2030 ambition.

All these options made it possible an early draftA draft of the Glasgow final decision text was published at the weekend. A new draft is expected to be released Wednesday morning (Glasgowtime).

There are still significant differences between the countries and negotiators will continue to try to reach a final political agreement. Saudi Arabia, as an example, has already achieved this. already triedto set the stage for an ambitious commitment to action before 2030.

The Australian government may have been cheering on Saudi Arabia from the sidelines. Australia is the only advanced economy that didn’t bring a strengthened 2030 target to Glasgow. An ambitious political statement in the COP26 decision text could require the federal government to set new 2030 targets – and devise policy to meet them – as soon as next year.

Boris Johnson, Antonio Guterres, Scott Morrison stand together at COP26

Australia is the only advanced economy that didn’t bring a strengthened 2030 target to Glasgow.


The UN climate talks are built upon consensus among 190 countries. It takes trust between the negotiating parties to achieve meaningful outcomes.

Trust is built by the willingness of wealthy nations to provide climate financing to help developing countries cope with the impacts and transition to low emission development.

Over a decade ago wealthy nations promised to the developing world US$100 billion annually by 2020. They have so far failed to keep their promise.

However, US climate envoy John Kerry says rich nations will meet the goal by 2022(and even exceed it in the 2020-2025 period).

The developing countries are wary of breaking promises and want renewed commitments to climate finance, especially for the period following 2025. Countries that are most vulnerable to climate impacts are also seeking finance to offset unavoidable loss and damages.

Progress in the UN climate talks, both at COP26 and beyond, may involve a “grand bargain” encompassing new promises on climate finance from wealthy countries, and new commitments to reduce emissions from both developed and developing countries.

It is not exaggerated to say that the fate of the planet will depend on the next few days in Glasgow of multilateral complex diplomacy.

COP26: the world's biggest climate talks

This story is part of The Conversation’s coverage on COP26, the Glasgow climate conference, by experts from around the world.

The Conversation is here for you to clarify the air and get reliable information amid a flood of climate news stories and news. More.

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