29th Mar 2023


COP26 climate summit: could it be different this time?

  • While climate change is affecting the entire world, its impact is not homogeneous - and poor nations are being disproportionately affected (Photo: United Nations Photo)
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World leaders and national negotiators from almost 200 countries will meet in Glasgow next week to discuss expectations for global cooperation in response to the emergency climate change.

The 2021 United Nations climate conference is known as COP26 because it refers to the Conference of the Parties that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, with the aim to prevent "dangerous human interference with the climate system".

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  • Aftermath of a wild fire in Greece in 2018, now an increasing phenomena (Photo: EUobserver)

Over the last decades, governments have vowed to slow down climate change. Yet, global greenhouse gas emissions have hit a record high almost every year, despite climate diplomacy.

Via first the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and then the 2015 Paris Agreement, governments set out strategic objectives to address rising global temperatures.

But the world is significantly off track in halting global warming – with climate projections now showing a 2.7 degree temperature rise this century.

A successful COP26 will be crucial to buy the planet time to fight climate change - but how will it be different this time?

The main agenda item for COP26 is to finalise the rulebook of the 2015 Paris deal, but key discussions will address whether countries are delivering on the promises they made six years ago – when they pledged to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees and support poor nations.

Several major issues remain unresolved, including the possibility of a global carbon-pricing mechanism, plus clear rules to avoid double counting of emissions reductions.

The conference will take place in Scotland, from 31 October to 12 November, after being delayed due to the pandemic.

However, public health authorities have concern over the increased risk of Covid-19 infections since the conference will attract some 25,000 delegates.

Meanwhile, the ongoing global vaccine inequality, quarantine rules and high travel costs are seen by civil society as obstacles for the participation of representatives from developing countries.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are still unconfirmed to attend.

Low expectations

Whether or not nations manage to reach an agreement on the most pressing topics, no overnight changes will occur as a result of COP26.

Even though discussions will be focussed on the misalignment between climate pledges and what is required to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees, it is highly probably that the so-called 'emissions gap' will remain after COP26.

The UN recently warned that the world has just eight years to halve current global emissions – some 28 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030.

One of the key aims of the conference is to encourage the financial sector to do more, moving investments out of fossil fuels. But economic discussions will be mainly concentrating on the long-term climate finance for the post-2025 period.

Developing countries will be pushing rich governments to scale up their financial support from 2025 – up from the current broken promise of $100bn (€85bn) a year. Fiji, for example, is calling for an annual pledge of $750bn after 2025.

Meanwhile, more and more countries are expected to announce their intention to phase out coal, and commit to 'net-zero' emissions targets – which refers to the balance between the emissions produced and those removed from the atmosphere.

And an increasing number of nations are also likely to join the US and EU-led initiative to reduce global methane emissions, the second-biggest contributor to global warming, following carbon dioxide.

Additionally, there is growing international pressure to set out ambitious goals to end deforestation and phase-out combustion engines.

Historic responsibility

While climate change is affecting all regions around the world, its impact is not homogeneous. Poor nations like Madagascar, Afghanistan or Yemen, where climate change is raising famine risks, are being disproportionately affected.

This has quickly triggered a north-south confrontation over historical responsibility - since the countries now contributing the most to carbon pollution are not the ones that have done so historically.

The US has emitted more carbon than any other country in the world. It is responsible about 25 percent of historical emissions – twice more than China, which is currently the biggest emitter.

Similarly, the EU has contributed to about 22 percent of historic emissions - without considering its overseas emissions under the colonial period.

Meanwhile, the historic contribution of India and Brazil, who are today among the world biggest emitters, is very small.

At the Glasgow's summit, all eyes will be on G20 countries since they are responsible for over 70 percent of global emissions. Coal-producing countries like China, India, Australia and Saudi Arabia will receive extra attention.

Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of the think thank ECCO Climate, told EUobserver that the UN summit will likely be "geopolitically neutral" since leaders know that an unprecedented level of cooperation is needed.

But he pointed out that "developed countries, in particular the US, need to provide more confidence in their ability to implement climate commitments at home and support financial flows to developing countries" for the COP to be successful.

Responding to the climate challenge is not an ecological whim, but increasingly a condition of survival - that should be addressed by global leaders as a crisis, just like Covid-19, rather than an economic opportunity.

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