The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) could not be held last year due to COVID-19. But finally this year, countries are meeting again at one of the most important international meetings set up to curb global warming. It's happening in Glasgow, in the UK, where from 31 October to 12 November world leaders will discuss the climate issues that will define the world we live in tomorrow.
What will I read in this article?
- COP: Where we've come from and where we're going
- COP 26: What to expect when you're expecting EVERYTHING
- COP26: Glasgow 2021
United Nations Climate Change Conference: Where we've come from and where we're going
Before we discuss what will happen at COP26, let's take a brief look at the role of these global meetings throughout history. It is the supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The UNFCCC entered into force on 21 March 1994, a body founded in 1994, when the world finally recognised that climate change was a real and global problem, and that climate decisions were urgently needed.
Every year, the 195 countries, plus the European Union, who are signatories to the Framework Convention meet at the COP, where decisions are taken by unanimity or by consensus on an agenda that must be agreed and approved in advance.
Two COPs have established global agreements with specific emission reduction targets:
- COP3 (1997): The Kyoto Protocol that agreed on the target of reducing countries' emissions by 5%.
- COP21 (2015): The Paris agreement, in which the parties committed to keeping the global average temperature rise well below 2°C based on pre-industrial levels and to efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.
The last meeting of the parties was at COP25, held in Madrid in 2019 after Chile withdrew from hosting the conference at the last minute.
COP26: What to expect when you're expecting everything
The COVID-19 crisis postponed the 2020 COP. But, while the coronavirus pandemic paralysed activity globally, climate change continued apace.
The news of the last few months and the data revealed by the latest IPCC report are good proof of this. Storms, floods and forest fires are intensifying worldwide. Air pollution is increasing, affecting the health of tens of millions of people.
There is an urgent need to achieve carbon neutrality, limit the rise in global temperatures and curb climate change. But countries like China, Russia and India are yet to make new commitments to reduce their pollution, and it is unclear whether they will do so before the Summit. Indeed, China, responsible for about 28 % of global emissions, announced this month that it would stop funding new coal-fired power plants in other countries, but not in its own.
Meanwhile, nations have committed themselves to funding poor and vulnerable nations to cope with the impacts of climate disasters and their own climate transition, but so far these commitments have not materialised.
COP26 in Glasgow 2021: Keeping hope alive
As the hosts of COP26, the UN and the UK government, in collaboration with Italy, have both asserted that their goal is to "keep alive the hope" of limiting the rise in global temperature as set out in the Paris Agreement.
Under the slogan Uniting the world to tackle climate change, the Glasgow conference will promote to make civil society, companies and institutions work together on climate action.
The UK Presidency has set the following key issues for discussion:
- Redoubling efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, as established by the Paris Agreement. Some countries are still reluctant to commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, which is essential to achieve the goal of curbing global warming. There are hopes that new and ambitious plans for achieving this will be announced at COP26. However, not until the Glasgow conference is over will we know whether this hope will eventually become a reality.
- In return, a greater commitment to energy transition is also expected. This includes replacing fossil fuels with clean energy sources, supporting and developing technology that makes renewable energy more efficient and cost-effective, and ensuring that countries transition their vehicle fleets to electric in the coming decades.
- Promoting the protection and restoration of forests and ecosystems. This includes ending deforestation by 2030, as forests play a crucial role in removing carbon from the atmosphere.
- Mobilising the funding needed to achieve a green economy that helps achieve the above goals. Indeed, hopes are that the richest nations will provide USD 100 billion annually for climate policies and to help developing countries reduce fossil-fuel emissions and adapt to the impacts of the crisis.
"What do we expect from COP26? At a minimum, new and ambitious commitments to fight climate change"
At stake at COP26 are the futures of the Earth's inhabitants in the coming decades. The temperature has already increased by more than 1°C since the pre-industrial age. Scientists say that for every fraction of a degree of warming, the world will experience increasingly intense and frequent climate disasters that will affect not only the planet, but also the health and safety of its inhabitants. Experts warn that if countries maintain their current commitments, the temperature will rise 2.4°C by the end of the century.
COP26 must be decisive. All parties involved need to increase their climate ambitions and reduce their emissions. Whether future generations look back to 2021 with admiration or despair will depend entirely on our ability to seize this moment.
If you want to know more about the United Nations Climate Change Conference click here.