Policymakers, experts, scientists, activists, business entities and others from more than 190 countries will attend the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) from 31 October to 12 November 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland, under the leadership of the UK government and supported by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to bring forward all the issues that are at stake vis-à-vis climate change.
Last-minute preparations are currently underway for the conference that will attract more than 30,000 people.
What, however, is of real concern for many people is to get tangible outcomes that would lay the foundation for accelerated greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation for this decade and onwards.
For years, the Conference of the Parties (COP) has been, to some extent, a messy affair. Getting concurrence of all the parties on major decisions has been extremely difficult. Taking decisions during the extended days beyond the scheduled periods have become a norm due to procrastination or disagreements.
There are also examples of key issues being postponed for the next COP. Yet, despite its shortcomings, the COP is the most important place to date to bring together all the international parties on the same platform for the sake of the common goal of addressing climate adversaries.
This year's COP26 is very special for several reasons. First, there was no COP last year, for the first time since 1995, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, 104 countries, including the EU-27 countries, according to Climate Action Tracker, have so far submitted their revised Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the UNFCCC.
Now, it is time to analyse the revised NDCs and get firm commitments from other countries as to when they can submit their updated NDCs. Third, we have several pending issues from previous COPs. Fourth, while each year we are experiencing more severe climate change-induced events, the last 10 to 12 months have been quite diabolical, to say the least.
The countries that are rich and are assumed to have sufficient capacity to tackle disasters linked to climate change have appeared to fall miserably short in the event of said disasters. We also have the latest assessment (part 1) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has unequivocally concluded that human-induced activities have led to the climate crisis.
The assessment has, furthermore, mentioned the dangerous tipping point, beyond which there will be irreversible damage. Last but not the least, time is running out – we have less than three decades to reach net zero emissions.
All these make the COP26 a curious case that people hope will be decisive. It is already five years since the historic Paris Agreement has been signed and hence, it is necessary to critically review all the NDCs to gauge their sufficiency to attain net-zero emissions by 2030 and 1.5 °C mean temperature rise by the end of this century.
Notably, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its energy outlook has stated that with the current level of NDC ambitions of different countries, we will only be able to cut down 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This means we will be significantly behind in terms of net-zero emissions in 2050. Therefore, if the NDCs are not enough, what further measures will be needed and what each country will do to reach net-zero emission by 2050 shall be agreed upon at the COP26.
The IEA has also forecasted the necessity for $4 trillion worth of investment over the next decade to bridge the gap between the emission reduction attainable with the current NDCs and the net zero emission level. Alongside this, we need to stop channelling finance to extremely polluting projects.
The good news is that the Asian Development Bank has already developed an energy policy that discards the financing of coal-powered projects. The Chinese leadership has recently vowed to not extend financing to coal-fired plants anymore to other countries as well.
This COP could result in an agreement among countries that they will no longer support polluting coal-based plants and rather catalyse investment in clean energy and environmentally-friendly projects.
The developing and poor countries are no longer satisfied with the pledges of the developed countries regarding $100 billion of climate finance because they want the financing to be channeled on a yearly basis starting now. Additionally, climate finance should be added to traditional development aid.
In that vein, this COP shall deliver positive results. COP26 can also be the platform to remove all the bottlenecks surrounding article 6 to spearhead enhanced climate change mitigation across the globe.
Finally, we have a lot at stake, as the IPCC assessment has claimed, but the situation is worse than other previous projections. The disasters in Germany and the rest of Europe, the US and many other countries remind us of the importance of adaptation and climate mitigation.
The big question is whether these reminders are loud enough to be heard or will fall on deaf ears.
After being sidelined last year due to the pandemic, the COP26 has been hailed by many as the perfect opportunity to deliver decisive results. The return of the US to the Paris Agreement and renewed ambitions from some polluting countries are some of the positives we have thus far. However, the results rest on the negotiators' table.
The author is an environmental economist