global treaties

What is COP26 and why does it matter?

COP26 is the latest in a series of annual global climate negotiations under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The 2021 Conference of Parties is from Oct, 31 to Nov. 12 in Glasgow, Scotland, and is being held after a one-year delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The UN climate framework was launched in 1992 and 196 countries, plus the European Union, are parties to the global climate treaty. Notable steps in the COP process include the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the negotiation stalemate in Copenhagen in 2007 and the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.

The goal of the UNFCCC process, including COP26, is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will “prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, in a time frame which allows ecosystems to adapt naturally and enables sustainable development.”

Under the Paris agreement, 196 countries agreed to try and limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, compared to average temperature in the industrial era from 1850-1900. Since 2015, the annual COP meetings have been mainly focused on implementing the mechanisms of the agreement to make that happen, including voluntary national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, international monitoring and verification of those efforts.

The initial round of pledges add up to annual emissions reductions of about 8 gigatons per year, and since then, new pledges have increased that to about 11 gigatons per year—still not nearly enough to reach the goal, which would require cuts of about 40 gigatons per year over the next decade, according to Sivan Kartha, a climate policy expert with the Stockholm Environment Institute.

Other key elements that will be negotiated at COP26 in Glasgow include increased climate financing from developed countries whose emissions have caused most of the warming to less developed countries that are most vulnerable to harmful climate impact, and working toward a global price on carbon that could help drive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Some have called COP26 the “last chance” for climate action, but Kartha said the meetings should be seen not as a last chance but as the next step in an evolving process.

“It’s not the last chance, because that last chance happened quite a long time ago,” he said. “Dangerous climate change is already here. At COP 26, we need to do everything we can to really seriously tackle the problem. The biggest thing from the bird’s eye view, is that Glasgow marks the outcome of the first round reviewing what countries put on the table in Paris, deciding how we are doing and then responding with increased more ambitious efforts.”

Bob Berwyn

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