This week world leaders gather in Glasgow for a crucial UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) aimed at agreeing radical action to tackle the climate crisis, the biggest threat facing humanity.
Likow Isak Sedow, an internally displaced person at Dhuyuleh camp in Somalia. Much of Somalia has suffered from almost continuous dry spells since 2011 due to climate change. Photo: Amunga Eshuchi.
Here is a quick guide to COP26.
What is COP26?
For almost three decades, world leaders have met annually to address and respond to the climate emergency.
Under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), every country is treaty-bound to “avoid dangerous climate change” and to find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way.
COP stands for Conference of the Parties under the UNFCCC, and the annual meetings have resulted in both disasters and triumphs.
Notable COP meetings include COP3 which took place in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan and led to the Kyoto Protocol – which outlined the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligations.
COP21, which was held in Paris in 2015, led to the Paris Agreement – which is a legally binding international treaty on climate change which was adopted by 196 parties with the goal to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
This COP will be the 26th meeting and will be held in Glasgow from Monday, November 1st to Friday, November 12th.
COP26 comes months after the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report which labelled global warming as a “code red for humanity”. COP26 is therefore being regarded as a landmark event by attendees from around the world.
Who will attend Cop26?
Leaders from 195 countries – signatories to the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement – will attend and attempt to firm up promises to ensure there is a better chance of containing temperature rise to 1.5 degrees this century.
There will be focus on the big wealthy states that prosper from fossil fuels but also representatives from low-income countries that have contributed least to the climate crisis, but that are bearing the brunt of accelerating climate change.
Almost every country of the world will be around the table. Those attending include US President Joe Biden; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett; Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison; French President Emmanuel Macron; Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; Colombian President Ivan Duque and Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari.
There will be a large delegation from Ireland including Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Environment Minister Eamon Ryan.
A significant absence will be Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As well as world leaders there will be thousands of negotiators; government representatives, business leaders, NGO’s, climate activists and citizens – all feeding into 12 days of intensive talks.
Why is COP so important?
As the Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report said, we are facing a “code red for humanity”.
COP26 Global emissions must be halved by 2030 and “net-zero emissions” achieved by 2050 to have any chance of containing temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times.
The Cop process is the only established global mechanism for such collective action. Good Cop outcomes show it’s possible to act in unison despite political tensions and economies operating at different paces.
Under the Paris agreement, countries also agreed on non-binding national targets to cut or to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Those national targets, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs), were inadequate to hold the world within the Paris temperature targets. If fulfilled, they would result in 3C or more of warming, which would be disastrous.
All countries are now being urged to revise their NDCs before COP26 in line with a 1.5C target. Scientists estimate that emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, and from there to net zero emissions by 2050, if the world is to have a good chance of remaining within the 1.5C threshold.
Temperatures around the world are already at about 1.1 – 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, and greenhouse gas emissions are still on an upward trend.
Carbon dioxide output dropped during the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, but that was temporary and they have surged again since as economies have recovered. To stay within 1.5C, global emissions need to come down by about 7% a year for this decade.
The UNFCCC process as a consensus-based process among all governments per se is not designed to correct all the failures, lack of climate action and dangerous inconsistencies in national climate policies (and in the speeches of national leaders), so this one COP will not ‘solve’ the climate problem, as previous COPs have not been able to do. But it has a key role to play, within the wider sphere of international policy moments and processes, to advance the finalisation of the Paris Agreement rulebook and strengthen its implementation architecture. And to generate attention of policymakers as well as media and the public, both globally and nationally, to the continuously large gaps between the required actions, and which policies have been put on the table so far.
What are the chances of a positive outcome?
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg, when asked how optimistic she was that the conference could achieve anything, responded: “Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say ‘we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this’, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.”
The big players in the talks – the UN, the UK, the US – have also already conceded that COP26 will not achieve everything that was hoped for. The NDCs likely to emerge from Glasgow will not add up to all that is needed to ensure the world remains within 1.5C.
While disappointing, it is not surprising. The UK hosts are still focused on ensuring that there is enough progress on emissions cuts for 2030 to “keep 1.5C alive”, and to pursue as many other routes – phasing out coal; cutting methane; setting a path away from fossil fuels for transport; getting business, financial institutions and sub-national governments to set out plans to cut emissions in line with 1.5C – that will help draw a clear route to reaching that goal as soon as possible.
At this critical COP it is essential that our Government shows leadership and demonstrates solidarity. Trócaire will be advocating for genuine leadership and credible commitments by countries to closing the gap and keeping global temperatures below 1.5C, renewed commitment to support the poorest countries in the world to deal with climate devastation that they are already experiencing and a commitment to solidarity and dealing with Loss and Damage, including loss of life, in a humane way.
Why radical action from COP26 is vital for the world’s most vulnerable communities
The reality is that climate change affects everybody, but not equally. Developing, low-income countries are suffering most, even though they have contributed least to the crisis.
Millions are already suffering the consequences and are struggling to adapt with limited resources and existing challenges, including conflict, displacement, food insecurity and Covid-19.
Record-breaking extreme weather and climate-driven disasters from fires to floods to hurricanes are causing huge disruption to the poor and most vulnerable including women and children. It is driving mass displacement and threatening progress on preventing conflict, combating hunger, and fighting global poverty.
In developing countries climate change is causing:
Fragility, Conflict, and Displacement:
Extreme weather has contributed to conflict in fragile states that has led to the displacement of 80 million people from their homes, now the highest level in human history.
Food and Water Security:
Of the 124 million people worldwide who face “crisis levels” of acute food insecurity, 76% were affected by climate shocks and extremes, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, and more than half of the people in developing countries live in rural communities dependent on agriculture – a sector highly vulnerable to environmental conditions.
The World Bank estimates that the effects of climate change could push an additional 100 million people below the poverty line by 2030. A Stanford University study found that climate change has increased economic inequality between developed and developing nations by 25% since 1960.