COP26: Will it be the turning point of the climate crisis that we’ve all been waiting for?

Nov. 1, 2021, noon • By Nisha Sarki

Climate change. Climate crisis. Climate action. The discourse around the topic has been hot – both from the grassroots activists and the political leaders.

That is one of the reasons why the upcoming COP26 is set out to be quite revolutionary.

 

What is COP26?

COP26 is the 26th Conference of the Parties – an annual UN Climate change conference that aims to accelerate global action on climate change. It will be attended by all the countries that have signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The conference is an arena for all the countries involved to gather and review their environmental policies and to strengthen their green goals. This is said to be the most important Conference after COP21 as the countries are set to review the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement. The landmark Paris agreement highlighted all the UN Green goals and commitments, including the goal of achieving Net Zero by 2050 and to cut carbon emissions to limit global warming to well below 2°C.

 

When and where is COP26?

This year, the Conference is set to take place from the 1 November to 12 November 2021 in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, UK.

 

Why?

The obvious answer? To tackle the very real and very imminent climate disaster that is fast approaching.

It is clear that if no changes are to be made, there will be a very irreversible and an inevitable problem for humanity. Rises to the temperatures above dangerous levels and the climate crisis will cause even worse devastation for the world’s poorest and the most vulnerable people.

We have already begun to see this with the rising sea levels, decreasing air quality, and the multitude of natural disasters even in the last couple of years. If the countries do not come together and reduce the global temperature below 1.5°C by 2050, heat extremes could be disastrous for both agriculture and health.

Worst case scenario, by 2050, pollution may be so terrible that there won’t be any fresh air. The rising ocean temperature may ruin all the world’s coral reefs, destroying marine life in its entirety. Global harvest will likely fail. Our world could be catastrophically hot. Our polar ice caps will be completely melted. The sea levels will rise. Millions of people will be displaced. All of this will result in increased risk of disease, war and mass migration – causing an international pandemonium.

Of course, this is if nothing is done. As much as human action caused the crisis in the first place, with a rise in CO2 after the industrial revolution being the main driver of climate change, human action still has the potential to alter this course of history. This is why COP26 is so important, and this is why there seems to be a stronger commitment in the aims to tackle this very real climate problem in this year’s Conference of the Parties.

 

 

Aims of COP26

The three main aims highlighted for COP26 are:

1.     To keep global temperature rises below 1.5°C (as opposed to 2°C set out in the Paris Agreement);

2.     For richer countries to deliver $100bn per year in financial support to the countries hit hardest by the climate emergency; and

3.     For all of the G20 group to cosign fossil fuels, including coal, oil and gas, to history once and for all.

 

How to achieve these aims?

This is the time the world must work together to solve the crisis. It is important for the political and the business leaders to come together and recognise that COP26 is the last chance to stop a permanent climate breakdown and make a conscious choice to go above and beyond to achieve these aims.

Even though it has been difficult to generate political urgency, it must be done to make the big changes that are required. After decades of denial and delay from parties with vested interest, especially within the fossil fuel industry, the truth of climate change is now extremely obvious and undeniable. Finally, there is political urgency on a global scale. 

Unfortunately, however, there is no real punishment for not following the aims of COP26 for the countries, apart from a metaphorical slap on the wrist. So, it is up to the political leaders to take these aims and implement them in their domestic policies. To keep the leaders accountable and to achieve political urgency on a domestic scale, the voters must lobby them to ensure the target of 1.5°C is within reach.

 

 

What could hinder these aims? 

In the weeks leading up to COP26, there have been calls for an ambitious agreement to move away from coal, to advance the usage of electric vehicles, to protect wildlife and to cut emissions of methane. So, what could potentially hinder this from becoming a reality? 

The primary obstacles faced by the movement are ultimately the lack of political will. The risk is that politicians continue to make hollow promises in lieu of direct action.  It is clear that it’s critical for the countries, especially the nations in G20, to finally act. 

Alok Sharma, the president of COP26, argues that it is the response of G20 that will be ‘make or break’ in keeping 1.5°C within reach. To give some context, G20 countries represent approximately 90% of global GDP and almost 80% of global trade and GHG emissions, giving them a unique global responsibility to ensure they address and act on the issue of climate change whilst also protecting the world’s poorest and the most vulnerable.

This means that they would need to: 

  1. Strengthen their Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs) to reduce their global emissions by half in time for 2030, and also commit to achieving net-zero before 2050. 
  2. End the financing and development of new fossil fuel, and ensure plans to phase out fossil fuel generated power by 2030 whilst simultaneously promoting development and usage of renewable energy across all sectors.
  3. Deliver on public climate finance commitments of $100bn per year towards developing countries, and align public finance with the 1.5°C goal in mind. It is critical to make this a grant, instead of a loan, to ensure the more vulnerable countries are not at risk of falling further into debt while they’re attempting to correct the centuries-long wrong committed by the nations in G20. 

 

C Free Thoughts

COP26 is set out to be revolutionary. However, this will only be the case if the countries follow through with the commitments and the aims set out in the agreement. Immediate and consistent action, not hollow promises, will be the only way to tackle the imminent climate crisis facing humanity now.

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