In a world rocked by a pandemic and a rapidly closing window of opportunity to avert climate catastrophe, the crucial UN COP26 climate conference kicks off this Sunday in the Scottish city of Glasgow – the stakes could not be more important.
“Without decisive action, we are wasting our last chance to – literally – turn things around,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said ahead of the meeting. But why could this be our last chance?
Here are some answers we found to the most common questions you might have about what to expect.
Let’s start with the basics, what is COP26?
Simply put, COP26 is the largest and most important climate conference on the planet.
In 1992, the UN organized a major event in Rio de Janeiro called the Earth Summit, in which the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.
In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference of human activity on the climate system. Today, the treaty has 197 signatories.
Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, the United Nations has brought together almost all the countries on the planet every year for world climate summits or “COP”, which stands for “Conference of the Parties”.
This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but thanks to COVID-19 we are a year behind schedule due to the postponement from last year – hence the COP26.
So what is happening at COP26? Don’t we already have enough meetings on climate change?
Various “extensions” of the UNFCCC treaty have been negotiated during these COPs in order to establish legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries and to define an enforcement mechanism.
These include the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which set emission limits for developed countries to be reached by 2012; and the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries of the world agreed to intensify their efforts to try to limit global warming to 1.5 ° C above pre-industrial temperatures, and to increase the financing of climate action.
So this is where COP26 gets interesting: during the conference, among others, the delegates will aim to finalize the “Paris Rulebook”, or the rules necessary for the implementation of the Agreement. This time, they will have to agree on common timetables for the frequency of review and monitoring of their climate commitments.
Basically, Paris has set the destination, limiting the warming to well below two degrees, (ideally 1.5) but Glasgow is the last chance to make it a reality.
So that brings us to our original question: why is this the last chance?
Like a boa constrictor slowly squeezing its prey to death, climate change has gone from an uncomfortable low-level problem to a life-threatening global emergency, over the past three decades.
Although there were new and updated commitments made by countries ahead of COP26, the world remains on track for a dangerous rise in global temperature of at least 2.7 ° C this century, even as Paris objectives are achieved.
The science is clear: A rise in temperatures of this magnitude by the end of the century could mean, among other things, a 62% increase in areas burned by forest fires in the northern hemisphere during the summer, the loss habitat for a third of the world’s mammals, and more frequent droughts of four to ten months.
UN chief António Guterres bluntly calls “climate catastrophe”, which is already being felt to a lethal degree in the world’s most vulnerable regions like sub-Saharan Africa and small island states, hit by rising sea levels.
Millions of people are already displaced and killed by disasters exacerbated by climate change.
For Mr. Guterres and the hundreds of scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a 1.5 ° C warming scenario is the “only viable future for humanity”.
Time is running out and to have a chance of limiting the rise, the world must halve greenhouse gas emissions over the next eight years.
This is a gigantic task that we can only accomplish if the leaders attending COP26 come up with bold, time-bound and forward-looking plans to phase out coal and transform their economies to achieve what is called net zero emissions.
Hmm, but haven’t countries like China and the United States already committed to net zero?
The most recent UN Emissions Gap Report explains that a total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a target of net zero.
This covers more than half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, more than half of global GDP and a third of the world’s population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12% of global emissions.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? But there is a catch: many commitments delay action until after 2030, raising doubts about the feasibility of meeting these net zero commitments. In addition, many of these commitments are “vague” and inconsistent with officially submitted national commitments, known as NDCs.
This again explains why COP26 is so important: “The time for diplomatic niceties is over… If governments – especially G20 governments – don’t stand up and lead this effort, we are heading for terrible human suffering. “Guterres warned at the United Nations General Assembly. this week.
So what exactly does COP26 hope to achieve (in practice)?
Official negotiations take place over two weeks. The first week includes technical negotiations by government officials, followed by ministerial meetings and high-level heads of state in the second week, in which final decisions will be made – or not.
Four main points will be addressed during the conference according to its host, the United Kingdom:
1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees close at hand
To do this, countries must accelerate the phase-out of coal, curb deforestation, accelerate the transition to greener economies. Carbon market mechanisms will also be part of the negotiations.
2. Adapt more to protect communities and natural habitats
As the climate is already changing, countries already affected by climate change must protect and restore ecosystems, as well as build resilient defenses, warning systems and infrastructure.
3. Mobilize funding
At COP15, rich countries pledged to channel $ 100 billion a year to less wealthy countries by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further temperature rises.
This promise has not been kept, and COP26 will be crucial in securing funds, with the help of international financial institutions, as well as setting new climate finance targets to be achieved by 2025.
4. Work together to deliver
This means establishing collaborations between governments, businesses and civil society, and of course finalizing the Paris Regulations to make the Agreement fully operational.
In addition to formal negotiations, COP26 is expected to establish new initiatives and coalitions to implement climate action.
How, when and where?
The main event will be held at the Scottish Event Campus, from October 31 to November 12, with the possibility of negotiations extending for an additional day or two. Until there, there are over 30,000 people registered to attend representing governments, businesses, NGOs and civil society groups.
The 197 parties to the UNFCCC treaty often come together in groups or ‘blocs’ to negotiate together, such as the G77 and China, the African Group, the Least Developed Countries, the Umbrella Forum, Small Island Developing States and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.
The negotiations also include observers, who do not participate formally but intervene and help maintain transparency. Observers include United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, faith groups and the press.
But besides the official negotiations, there will be a conference, a pavilion and thousands of side events, spread over thematic days, on topics such as finance, energy, youth and public empowerment, nature, adaptation, gender, science and innovation, transport. , and cities.
The conference will take place in two zones: the blue zone (Scottish Events Campus) and the green zone located at the Glasgow Science Center.
The blue zone is a space managed by the UN where negotiations are held, and to enter all participants must be credited by the UNFCCC secretariat.
The green zone is managed by the UK government and open to the public. It will include events, exhibitions, workshops and conferences to promote dialogue, awareness, education and engagement on climate change.
Someone famous is participating?
Several heads of state and government, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden, are expected. Other famous faces in Glasgow will include Sir David Attenborough, People’s Advocate COP26, activist Greta Thunberg, acclaimed Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams and singer-songwriter and UNEP Ambassador Ellie Goulding. The Queen regretfully announced on Tuesday that she would ultimately not make it to the main reception of the event.
The United Nations new SDG ambassadors, K-pop superstars, BLACKPINK, will also join the event. The all-female Korean group posted a video ahead of their appearance, sharing a glimpse of their heartfelt message to inspire climate action.
And with such a large conference, are there any special COVID-19 measures?
As COVID-19 continues to be a huge challenge across the world, tackling the climate crisis cannot wait according to COP26 hosts.
Face-to-face negotiations are preferred over online negotiations, to ensure inclusive participation of high and low income countries, as well as to ensure review and transparency.
Full vaccination is encouraged for conference attendees, and the UK has a program in place in advance, provide vaccines to participants living in countries unable to obtain one.
Strict COVID-19 testing protocols will also be in place, including daily testing for anyone entering the blue zone to ensure the health and well-being of everyone involved and the surrounding community.
There are also COP-specific provisions for the COVID travel regime that people will encounter when entering England and Scotland, with some countries requiring quarantine (which will be funded by the UK government for participants in difficult circumstances.