Delegates from around the world are today arriving in Glasgow ahead of a two-week conference that will test the willingness of today’s world leaders to deliver on the promises they or their predecessors made in Paris six years ago.
As the host nation of COP26, the UK will be expected to demonstrate global leadership at an event that has been described as the “world’s last best chance to get runaway climate change under control”.
In 2015, nearly every country in the world signed the Paris Agreement, the first legally binding international treaty on climate change.
The Paris Agreement is extensive in its scope and detailed in its content, but it is worthwhile considering three of the main areas of the Agreement that outline its ambition, how parties will be held accountable, and who will finance the transition. These will undoubtedly shape leaders’ approach to COP26.
The Agreement, which came into force in 2016, sets out an ambitious global response to the challenge presented by climate change. In short, it commits signatories to limiting global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. It goes on to encourage countries to take steps to deal with and mitigate the current impacts of climate change.
Beyond this, signatories to the Agreement are also committed to aim to reach peak global greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and to take steps to rapidly reduce these and to achieve a balance between its emission and removal.
In order to bring accountability to the signatories, the Paris Agreement requires all parties to commit to and publish the actions they will take to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The Agreement works on a five-year cycle, and the first of these NDCs were due to be published by 2020. As of September 2021, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had received 164 NDCs, including 86 new or updated NDCs from 113 countries.
Furthermore, the Paris Agreement requires that all parties regularly report on their emissions, commit to a global review every five years, and consider the collective progress of signatories.
The Agreement also makes provision for signatories to develop long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS). This document, while not mandatory, is intended to provide the long-term context for the NDCs and to enable countries to take a long-term view of the planning and preparatory work needed to achieve the goals set out at Paris in 2015.
Finally, and most significantly, the Paris Agreement outlined how its ambitions would be financed. The Agreement states that “developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation”.
Building on past COPs, developed countries were encouraged to significantly increase their climate finance ambitions/spending with the aim of mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020. It was announced earlier this month that this will instead be reached by 2023.
Arguably, COP21 and the Paris Agreement were the “easy bit” as they set out the “what” in relation to the action needed to be achieved, in order to address the climate crisis, whereas COP26 is focused on “how” this will be achieved – something that could prove far more difficult to gain agreement on.
The UK Government, as hosts to the world, has set out four ambitions for what it views as necessary objectives of the conference: secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilise finance; and work together to deliver climate action.
With the global economies still feeling the effects of Covid-19 and countries recovering at different rates, what COP26 might realistically do is test the willingness of global leaders’ to achieve the goals that they agreed to in Paris.
None more so than the commitment to a collective goal of delivering $100 billion per year in climate finance.
The recently published IPCC Sixth Assessment report outlined that the current ambitions of governments around the world are not enough to achieve the ambitions set out in the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. However, the report also said that it is not too late to take radical action to undertake the necessary work to deliver quick and sustained reductions in GHG.
With such warnings setting the scene for Glasgow it is clear that what is – or is not – agreed at this conference will matter a great deal for the planet.
COP26 might not be the last chance to deliver the action that is needed to tackle global warming, but if this opportunity is missed and leaders decide to kick the can further down the road, limiting global average temperature rises to 1.5 degrees may permanently slip from the world’s grasp. The stakes for Glasgow are high.