The UK has been chosen to host the major UN climate change summit, known as COP26, an event it will co-host with Italy. It was originally scheduled for November 2020 but has been postponed to November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There is of course a chance it may need to be postponed once again, depending on the international effort to curb the pandemic, however, the climate issue is urgent, and offers little wiggle room when it comes to our collective and timely actions. To get to grips with this issue, read our article Climate Change: The Low Down.
This is the most important climate summit since the landmark Paris Agreement was agreed at COP21 in 2015. Although the postponement means that the COP26 will now take place after the ‘by 2020’ deadline for numerous components of the Paris Agreement, it poses a monumental opportunity to set out goals for countries and governments to unite and tackle the climate crises. UN officials expect nations to continue to work to deliver their updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs).
The major benefit of the delay to the event is that COP26 will also take on a newfound significance now that it will take place after the winner of the 2020 US Presidential election takes office. This allows a space of months, not days, for the new President to prepare and align his goals for the USA’s efforts to combat climate change on the global stage. To find out more about Joe Biden’s stance on climate change and what he hopes to achieve in office, read our article on What Does a New President Mean For Climate Change?
The postponement also allows the UK to assess the submission of its own NDC to consider key expert advice from the Committee on Climate Change, ensuring it is in line with its net zero by 2050 target.
Today, we’re going to take a look at the upcoming event and go through what it could mean for our planet.
What Is A UN Climate Summit?
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the UN’s climate body, holds an annual summit known as a COP, or Conference of the Parties, attended by national ministers and, for the key summits, heads of state. All countries are ‘parties to the Convention’, and the COP is its supreme decision-making body.
Regional groupings of countries take it in turns to select a host. For 2020, the Western European and Other States group (the “Other States” include Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the United States) backed a bid from the UK and Italy, under which the UK will host the main event, with Italy running a preliminary set of meetings called the ‘pre-COP’. The decision was officially approved at the COP in Spain in December 2019 and the city of Glasgow in Scotland was selected as the host location.
The conferences present a chance for eco-activists and scientists to engage and educate political figures, industry leaders and the world as a whole on the issues of climate change. More than that, the main objective is to track where we are with our efforts and set new targets and actionable plans to build an effective collective effort from countries all over the world to reduce their carbon emissions and slow down the impact of climate change.
The most significant conference previously was the Paris Agreement of 2015, which united nations across the world like never before to combat climate change by pledging efforts and resources to the cause.
Almost all countries signed the Paris Agreement, the central aim of which is to restrict global temperature rise this century to ‘well below’ 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C – note the “1.5 to Stay Alive” phrase.
The Paris Agreement included a clause ‘requesting’ nations to submit enhancements or upgrades in the form of NDCs. A key expectation of an NDC is for governments to accelerate their carbon-cutting for the decade to 2030.
The Paris Agreement calls for the delivery of NDCs, long-term decarbonisation plans to 2050, and financial support worth $100bn per year to countries considered most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as Bangladesh, which if hit by significant sea rises could lead to over 150 million climate refugees.
The Paris Agreement is explicit in that these three measures are due ‘by 2020’ and not ‘by COP26’. The postponement means therefore that the Glasgow summit will now take place after the Paris Agreement’s ‘by 2020’ deadline.
Because of COVID-19, we’ve had to wait another year. At the start of April 2020, the heads of the UN, the British government and its Italian partners (the hosts of the pre-COP event) announced that due to the pandemic, the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference will be delayed until November 2021.
The European Commission has assured that it will continue working to raise the EU climate objectives for 2030 despite the delay. “We will not slow down our work. In the long-term, we have committed to climate neutrality by 2050,” declared Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President for the European Green Deal.
In this vein, the financial world continues its mission to fight against climate change, and to recall and advance in this fight one year prior to the celebration of COP26. Two important events will be held in the path to this conference – both will help to mobilise the commitments of public and private financial institutions in a coordinated manner.
Scotland’s second city, Glasgow, will play host to the conference. Specifically, the SEC Centre in the city centre will be the main venue for all of the COP26 activities throughout the 1st to the 12th November.
Italy will partner with the UK in leading COP26. For the most part, their role will be in preparatory work such as the hosting of a pre-COP session and an event for young people called Youth4Climate 2020: Driving Ambition. These events were scheduled to take place between 28 September and 2 October 2020 in Milan.
Who Will Be There?
The UK’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, Alok Sharma was appointed President of COP26 in February 2020, who is focusing full-time on leading the conference in close collaboration with the UNFCCC secretariat. Former CEO of We Mean Business, a climate change action organisation, Nigel Topping was appointed as the UK government’s High Level Climate Action Champion for COP26. Appointed by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and taking a finance advisory position is Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England.
Representatives from the 197 ‘Parties’ to the UNFCCC, that is member states of the UN plus the ‘supranational’ European Union, will be in attendance. All members of the EU act as one delegation in the negotiating space. COP26 will be the first time the UK will act at the UNFCCC as a nation state and not as part of the EU delegation. It is the Parties who negotiate and make the decisions and agreements that fall under the UNFCCC.
There will also be a range of observers present throughout the conference to maintain a level of transparency to the proceedings and provide a wider stakeholder review of the progress of the negotiations. These will include Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and even faith leaders as well as prominent eco-activists and environmental experts.
What Are The Aims?
The main goals of the conference are to set out the contributions each nation or party must adhere to in order to meet the targets deemed necessary to limit the impact of climate change.
Many consider Glasgow the most important climate conference since COP 2015 when the Paris Agreement was concluded. Countries are expected to react with more powerful plans to cut emissions due to the climate crisis. The UK government’s COP26 Envoy, John Murton, has announced the five key points for the Glasgow event: adaptation and resilience mechanisms; the protection and restoration of ecosystems; the transition toward renewable energy; new mobility and transportation; and contribution to the world of finances.
It is expected that steps toward reaching global alliances will continue taking place in the Scottish city. The previous conference, COP25 Chile, held in Madrid, resulted in notable agreements although Article 6 on the regulation of the carbon market was not approved.
BBVA was an active participant in the Madrid event with the bank’s chairman and CEO as prominent participants in the conference. The main building at the bank’s Madrid headquarters, La Vela, was lit in green for the two weeks that the conference lasted. In addition, Celler de Can Roca prepared the menu for the head of state’s first lunch, sponsored by BBVA.
Several technical issues are set to be finalised during COP26, such as Carbon market mechanisms, which would allow countries to purchase carbon credits (reductions) from another country to allow the purchasing country to continue to emit within its borders. Carbon markets may also include trade in ‘negative’ emissions such as carbon absorption through forestry. There are very diverse views from Parties on the extent and rules for these markets.
Funding for Loss and damage: While Loss and damage is a core part of the Paris Agreement there is no mechanism as yet within the UNFCCC to fund responses when vulnerable countries experience loss and damage. This is viewed as a critical factor by LDCs to unlock the negotiations but is resisted by many wealthy nations.
Discussions over the delivery of the $100 billion finance target are likely, and again will be a critical factor for less developed countries. Additionally, COP26 is likely to set the next target for climate finance to be achieved by 2025.
An increasingly important aspect of the climate debate is around ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS). That is how nature (forests, agriculture and ecosystems) can become a climate solution for absorbing carbon and for protecting against climate impacts. COP26 will start to discuss how to integrate NBS into the Paris implementation strategy.
What Could It Achieve?
Under the Paris Agreement, countries submitted Intended nationally determined contributions, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to a “business as usual” scenario. Under the framework of the Paris Agreement, each country was expected to submit enhanced nationally determined contributions every five years, to ratchet up ambition to mitigate climate change. Since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015, at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the conference of 2020 was set to be the first iteration of the ratchet mechanism. Future iterations will also take into account the “global stocktake”, the first of which is in 2023.
Ultimately, if everything goes to plan and an urgent but achievable plan is laid out, we should have agreements in place that will limit global warming to a 1.5oC increase on pre-industrial levels.
The significance of limiting this rise to 1.5oC as opposed to the previously suggested 2oC has been outlined by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC), who present their Assessment Reports (AR) every five years, with AR6 due out in 2021/22. The reports also recommend a global target of global net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit the impact of climate change below a tipping point threshold.
It’s critical that we make progress at COP26. As the slogan coined for the conference states; The climate has no borders. It is up to governmental and industry leaders from around the world to work together, discuss climate change and set out strict, actionable targets.
If targets can be agreed upon as well as the methods to achieve them and countries can be held accountable for their negative actions or breaches of the terms, then COP26 can provide a lifeline for our environment, eco-systems and all living creatures that call our planet home.
Of course, due to COVID-19, we’ll have to wait and see how the conference can take place. It could be held in restricted attendance or perhaps online. But one thing’s for certain, the seriousness and urgency of the problem we all face is extraordinary; COP26 could be the catalyst for the turning point that we desperately need to enact if we have any chance of winning the fight against climate change.