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HomeWorldCOP26: World leaders in a make-or-break chance to save planet

COP26: World leaders in a make-or-break chance to save planet

In Summary

  • The UN COP26 summit is the most important Summit on climate for years.
  • It runs from today to November 12.

World leaders will start descending on the Scottish city of Glasgow today (Sunday) for the United Nations COP26 summit, billed as a make-or-break chance to save the planet from the most calamitous effects of climate change.

Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 aims to keep alive a target of capping global warming at 1.5 °C  above pre-industrial levels – the limit scientists say would avoid its most destructive consequences.

Meeting that goal, agreed in Paris to much fanfare in 2015, will require a surge in political momentum and diplomatic heavy-lifting to make up for the insufficient action and empty pledges that have characterised much of global climate politics.

The conference needs to secure more ambitious pledges to further cut emissions, lock in billions in climate finance, and finish the rules to implement the Paris Agreement with the unanimous consent of the nearly 200 countries that signed it.

COP26 may not deliver

“Let’s be clear – there is a serious risk that Glasgow will not deliver,” UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) rich nations last week.

“Even if recent pledges were clear and credible — and there are serious questions about some of them — we are still careening towards climate catastrophe here.”

Countries’ existing pledges to cut emissions would see the planet’s average temperature rise 2.7C this century, which the UN says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing by intensifying storms, exposing more people to deadly heat and floods, killing coral reefs and destroying natural habitats.

The signals ahead of COP26 have been mixed. A new pledge last week from China, the world’s biggest polluter, was labelled a missed opportunity that will cast a shadow over the two-week summit. Announcements from Russia and Saudi Arabia were also lacklustre.

The return of the United States, the world’s biggest economy, to U.N. climate talks will be a boon to the conference, after a four-year absence under President Donald Trump.

But like many world leaders, President Joe Biden will arrive at COP26 without firm legislation in place to deliver his own climate pledge as Congress wrangles over how to finance it and new uncertainty about whether U.S. agencies can even regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

Leaders of the G20 meeting in Rome this weekend will say they aim to cap global warming at 1.5C, but will largely avoid firm commitments, according to a draft statement seen by Reuters.

The joint statement reflects tough negotiations, but details few concrete actions to limit carbon emissions. 

The G20, which includes Brazil, China, India, Germany and the United States, accounts for about 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but hopes the Rome meeting might pave the way to success in Scotland have dimmed considerably.

Shadow of Covid-19

Adding to the challenging geopolitical backdrop, a global energy crunch has prompted China to turn to highly polluting coal to avert power shortages, and left Europe seeking more gas, another fossil fuel.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko, speaking ahead of the opening of the COP26 conference. PHOTO/ PSCU

Ultimately, negotiations will boil down to questions of fairness and trust between rich countries whose greenhouse gas emissions caused climate change, and poor countries being asked to de-carbonise their economies with insufficient financial support.

“Even if recent pledges were clear and credible — and there are serious questions about some of them — we are still careening towards climate catastrophe.”

Countries’ existing pledges to cut emissions would see the planet’s average temperature rise 2.7C this century, which the UN says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing by intensifying storms, exposing more people to deadly heat and floods, killing coral reefs and destroying natural habitats.

The signals ahead of COP26 have been mixed. A new pledge last week from China, the world’s biggest polluter, was labelled a missed opportunity that will cast a shadow over the two-week summit. Announcements from Russia and Saudi Arabia were also lacklustre.

The return of the United States, the world’s biggest economy, to U.N. climate talks will be a boon to the conference, after a four-year absence under President Donald Trump.

Earlier this week, Kenya said it will advocate for the full implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement. Environment CS Keriako Tobiko said the country will also push for the implementation of the $100 billion annual pledge for poor nations for climate change adaptation.

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