This week, the much-awaited climate conference COP26 kicked off in Glasgow, Scotland. It has created quite the buzz through the last few months, as activists, environmentalists and even businesses are eager and nervous to learn about what’s in store. In case you’re still wondering what the conference entails, here’s a quick guide to run you through the details.
COP, also known as the ‘Conference of the Parties’ is the UN’s annual climate change conference which started in the year 1995, shortly following the formation of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention (UNFCCC) in 1994. All signatories of the UNFCCC come together to discuss, negotiate and strike deals to tackle the imminent global warming crisis. Essentially, COP negotiations are centred on the legal mechanisms for governments to hold each other accountable. This year, the 12-day conference is being hosted by Glasgow, Scotland — following its recently awarded status of Global Green City which has a target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 — and has the U.K. as the President.
Which past events are relevant to COP26?
COPs, for the longest time, have been conferences filled with scientific jargon and technical negotiations sitting away from the knowledge or understanding of the general public. However, two previous conferences have been particularly important that gained quite the traction — COP3 and COP21, namely the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.
In 1997, Kyoto Protocol at Japan, bound its 192 signatories to the idea of reversing climate change by limiting or reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. It entered into force on 16 February 2005. The Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 at COP21 promised to maintain global temperatures to 1.5℃ and retain it under 2℃. Under this backdrop, the 26th conference becomes particularly interesting as global leaders for the first time are meeting after Paris to follow up on the status of their promises made five years ago.
In August, IPCC’s annual report declared a code-red on the climate situation as the current efforts from the countries across aren’t enough to keep the temperatures low. Blaring sirens across the environment communities, COP26 comes at a time when everyone expects immediate action. In a campaign video, the message was set clear as Frankie the dinosaur urged leaders to save humanity from extinction. Watch the video here:
And so the conference is set to bring heavy conversations to tackle global warming and strengthen a collective response.
Weeks ago, Milan hosted the pre-COP that dictates the flow of conversation for the current conference. Here are the issues that were discussed and agreed upon:
- Increase the ambition to reduce global emissions for the 1.5C goal.
- Provision of financial aid to support developing countries to act on climate change
- Averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage from climatic extremes
- Advancing technicalities needed for countries to transparently report on their climate actions
- Advancing the detailed rules for the market and non-market mechanisms, through which countries can cooperate to meet their emission reduction targets.
Who is attending and what are the goals?
There are three categories of entry permitted at the event: the representatives of Parties to the Convention and Observer States, members of the press and media, and representatives of observer organisations (including NGOs, volunteers, etc). Out of these Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, EU representatives from the 27 member states, France, Ghana, India, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Scotland, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the US are attending, while Iran, South Africa, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Brazil make up the list of non-attendees so far.
The conference is set to see climate pledges from China, India, and Saudi Arabia, climate cash from France and Italy, reaffirmation of the 1.5℃ goal, new signatories to the UN’s No New Coal pact, noisy protests from Greta Thunberg for more action, and on the U.K. front, Boris Johnson will hope for new national bans on petrol and diesel car sales.
Particularly for the United Kingdom, apart from adhering to the commitment of securing global net-zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5℃ within reach, Johnson has outlined his four aims for the COP26 summit as “cash, cars, coal and forest”. The goals range from-
- Adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, specifically by protecting and restoring ecosystems and building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and even lives; to
- Mobilising finance—at least £74 billion in climate finance per year.
Interestingly, COP26 is not running towards a climate target, rather promises. Nations and big governments are likely to reaffirm their support for the goals set under the Paris agreement and aim to be more ambitious with their carbon neutrality and carbon-cutting targets, but no collective time frames to execute these are on the table as of now.
On top of these, some commitments that will be made in Glasgow could affect consumers’ lives directly as diplomatic negotiations often zero on solutions adopted on an individual level than direct changes that make a difference. For example, potential solutions may include shifting to electric vehicles completely, moving away from gas heating, cutting out red meat completely and being mindful of our individual carbon footprint.
What role can businesses play?
A recent Forbes report noted that the largest companies have moved faster than governments in committing to ambitious carbon targets. It said, “80% of corporate carbon emissions can be attributed to just 167 companies.” This means, if big businesses and corporates work transparently and ambitiously to curb their carbon emissions, the 1.5℃ becomes a very easy target. The efforts are visible too — 62% of the 50 largest S&P companies have stepped up to net zero targets in just a few years.
These goals were reached by reducing the waste from their production process, submitting CDP Response Disclosures, committing to terms such as “Net Zero”, “Carbon Neutral” or “Zero Emissions”, setting science-based targets, using carbon offsets and investing in off-site renewable purchases — which all come by implementing EMS and following the SDG path!