UNFCCC (COP26): What’s on the Table

United Nations Climate Change Conferences under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are among the most important meetings globally. The Conference of Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the UNFCCC. All the states that are parties to the Convention are represented at the COP each year, where the implementation of the Convention, or any other legal instrument that the COP has adopted, and necessary decisions for its implementation, is reviewed.

The negotiations between officials from countries across the globe and representatives from civil society, the global media outlets are multifaceted. The yearly held conferences are significant for accelerating action on climate change and limiting the global temperatures rise.
This time, the Conference of Parties (COP26), hosted by the United Kingdom (UK), kicked off on October 31, 2021, in Glasgow after the G20 states failed to limit the net carbon emissions. It was the most significant diplomatic event on British soil since World War II. The event marked a make or a break moment for the future of the planet. The meeting in Glasgow aimed to make and secure new promises to reduce carbon emissions. The impacts of climate change are worsening, so the world will have no choice but to enact strict and effective measures more rapidly.

As United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres states, “The time to act radically and decisively is not 10 or 20 years from today. It is now”. Thus, it is pertinent to mention that the COP26 was a test case for the efficacy of the world’s multilateral system to promote cooperation and concerted efforts to address global threats of climate change. Specifically, it signaled the world’s ability to take actions for countering the erratic impacts of global warming caused by the huge concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases accumulating in the Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Under the landmark Paris agreement, signed in 2015, the world’s leading authority on climate change; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) examines what a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature would mean for the Earth. The researchers found a vast difference between the disasters caused by 1.5- and 2-degrees Celsius warming of the planet. They concluded that the lower temperature of the planet is safe; however, an increase of 1.5 Celsius is still causing a rise in sea levels and an increase in heatwaves, droughts, floods, catastrophic storms, and other erratic weather events. So, it is comprehensible that the impacts of erratic weather patterns would be far more with a rise of 2 degrees Celsius. Moreover, it was illustrated in a report of IPCC that despite these warnings given repeatedly, there was still a chance to prevent the planet from going towards destruction by keeping the temperature below the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold. However, the experts believe that it would require concerted efforts on the part of the states because, every fraction of an increase in the temperature is crucial.

Under the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, states pledged to hold global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels while cutting off the heat to 1.5 degrees Celsius. These goals were legally binding under the treaty. Moreover, the states under the agreement agreed on non-binding national targets for cutting carbon emissions. The developing countries had agreed to curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The national targets, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), were unsuccessful in limiting the world within the targets set under the agreement. Therefore, NDCs and the long-term net-zero goals are central to the vision of COP26. COP26 aims to achieve the desired goals by phasing out coal, climate finance to developing countries, and nature-based solutions.

At the COP26, negotiators reached out for some deals and compromises to save the planet. One of the notable decisions at the Glasgow Summit was the United States and the European Union’s proposed Global Methane Cutting Initiative, where 100 countries pledged to reduce methane emissions by 30%, well below 2020 levels by 2030. A breakthrough was also observed during the COP26 when the US and China, the world’s two largest carbon emitters, through a deal, committed to enhanced climate action to keep the net temperature within the limit set under the Paris Agreement. Precisely, the commitment to phase down coal was considered under the deal. It is worth noting that the scientists presume that phasing down of the coal would move the world closer to the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal. So, this level of commitment between the US and China, the major strategic rivals and the world’s largest carbon emitters, has given impetus to the talks on climate change by shifting the entire narrative around COP26. The concluding remarks at the COP26, for the first time, directed all the nations to step up their efforts for phasing down the continuous dependence on coal and cut down on the fossil fuel subsidies. The reason behind it is that coal is the most dangerous fossil fuel. International Energy Agency made it clear by reiterating that if coal is not rapidly phased out, the world should not hope to stay within the limits of 1.5 degrees Celsius of global heating. So, to achieve the target, at least 40% of the present-day world’s 8500 coal-powered plants must be closed by 2030 while shifting to renewable energy resources.

Moreover, it was also decided to provide climate finance to the developing countries for adaptation. Previously, the Paris Agreement had set the goal of providing climate finance to developing countries for tackling the climate crisis. At COP26, developed nations were directed to provide at least $100 billion as climate finance to the developing countries to secure the global net-zero emissions. Another key outcome of the COP26 was the Paris rulebook: It is an agreement reached on the toughest norm related to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, whose approval will make the agreement fully operational. This move is likely to unlock an investment of billions of dollars in carbon reduction projects across the globe.

The main goal of COP26 was to keep the discussion on 1.5 degrees Celsius alive by actively focusing on nature-based solutions. Despite pessimism among many heading to Glasgow Summit, there is still reason to believe that hope persists. However, it would only be possible if the states get serious and start taking practical actions. The international community needs to hold leaders accountable for their pledges and take adequate measures to achieve desired goals. The Conference of Parties (COP26) ended with hope in mind and a resolution for the governments across the globe to revise their national targets for the next year to make them achievable. According to the talks at Glasgow, current NDCs are such that it is expected to culminate in a disastrous 2.4 degrees Celsius of heating, making the target of limiting the temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius unachievable. So, any carrot and stick policy or any other policing mechanism is needed to ensure the implementation of the pledges made by the states, keeping in view the scale of climate change.

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