Countries at COP 26: what to expect...or not?

The new conference in the city of Glasgow meets a certain skepticism and uncertainty. However, the increasing pressure of decarbonization on all countries and the demands for solidarity make this meeting a new starting point not to miss.

The umpteenth “last chance” to save the planet from inaction on climate change will take place on October 31. From that date – which may or may not coincide with Halloween night – until November 12, the 26th edition of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP 26, will be held in the Scottish city, Glasgow. 

Once again, the 196 signatory countries of the convention – which are also joined by the European Union – will meet in this annual meeting characterized by the presence of high-level political figures. A summit that, since its inception in 1995, has generated more expectations than tangible results in the human struggle against greenhouse gas emissions.

Many interests revolve around the progress evaluation made in the last 24 months – the pandemic prevented the summit from taking place last year – in terms of international commitments. As usual, the parties will also exchange information on the measures taken in the different countries, which may allow for the mutual benefit of best practices in environmental protection.

Redoubling efforts

Alok Sharma, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development, did not reveal much about the targets set by the meeting, which continue to revolve around limiting “the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels”. The solution to reach this goal has not changed either: “Produce less carbon than we take out of the atmosphere.” In addition, the famous “net zero” objective as a horizon of emissions from the second half of the century. Ending deforestation, accelerating the shift to electric vehicles, promoting investment in renewable energy, and strengthening mechanisms for collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society on climate issues are other goals set by the summit.

The progress made to date by the actors involved in the fight against climate change is a good start, but it is still far from sufficient to achieve the goals set. Time is still running out. And while the “chronic denialism” of powers such as the United States and China seems to be waning as the evidence of climate change – and the economic opportunities that come with it – becomes clearer, their ambiguity on some issues remains a problem.

China, the world’s most polluting country, recently announced its intention to achieve net-zero emissions by 2060, but its roadmap to get there is not convincing the international community. COP26 will attempt to persuade the Asian giant to move forward with this agenda, particularly concerning the emissions peaks that have yet to occur at intermediate points on the roadmap.

Speeding things up

Only 70 of the nearly 200 countries attending the summit have yet submitted concrete plans to reduce emissions. The proximity of the year 2030, the first point of no return from the targets set by the Paris Agreement, suggests that COP26 will do everything possible to increase that number. It is also possible to deduce the demand for an increase in the speed of decarbonization of the global economy, with more drastic proposals for emission reductions. Scientists estimate that, compared to 2010 levels, emissions will need to be reduced by 45% by 2030, which is a first step towards the zero-carbon goal by 2050. […]

Climate financing

Climate financing – the money with which developed countries have committed to financing the climate transition in poorer countries – is another of the “hot potatoes” of the summit. On the table is the partially unfulfilled promise to provide the most vulnerable economies with $100 billion a year to help them reduce their emissions and protect themselves from the impacts of extreme weather events. According to OECD data, only $80 billion was allocated last year for this purpose.

In this regard, Mr. Ulargui, Director of the Spanish Office of Climate Change (OECC), said that “the Glasgow Package must respond to the demands for solidarity and ambition of the most vulnerable countries.” For example, it must address the challenge of “filling the gaps and vulnerabilities left by the abandonment of fossil fuel exploitation in local economies.”

Other points of interest

Another sensitive issue likely to be addressed in Glasgow is the controversial carbon trading scheme, a system whereby the richest and most polluting countries have the power to pass on their emissions reductions to other countries in exchange for a series of offset payments. Thus, the new summit aims to establish a fairer, clearer, and more transparent playing field on this issue.

Also on this year’s agenda are issues related to the development and transfer of technologies applied to the fight against the environmental crisis, as well as transparency frameworks involving the creation of common and standardized reporting systems for different countries regarding their environmental actions.

In addition to the fundamental issues, there is room for entertainment. These ingredients will be provided by the personalities who will come to Scotland to give their views and try to influence the vital outcome: from old “activists” like British filmmaker and naturalist Sir David Attenborough to surprising new converts like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. It all adds up.

Photography credit – Cover: Adam Marikar via Unsplash