Your guide to COP26

Many Sheffielder’s are preparing to go to Glasgow for COP26. Why is it so important and will it achieve anything?

Michael Jacobs recently addressed an open meeting of Sheffield Green Party.  He was formerly the special advisor to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, steering through the Climate Change Act. Here is the video of the discussion.

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”. These are the 197 countries plus the EU that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Glasgow will host in the first 2 weeks of November and the UK has the Presidency. Outside COP, there will be  fringe meetings and demonstrations and countries and businesses will make announcements. Inside COP will be the complex negotiations between the national leaders. 

The 2015 COP in Paris committed the world’s nations to limit the rise in annual global surface temperature to well below 2 degrees C and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C. The actual commitments made by countries in Paris were not consistent with 2 degrees C, let alone 1.5 degrees C. So we are currently on track to destabilise our climate, leading to catastrophe. 

The Agreement states that every 5 years countries must strengthen their commitments based on a scientific stocktake of progress. In 2018 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 1.5 C global emissions have to be cut by 45% by 2030 and to fall to net-zero by 2050. A future column will cover net-zero, but it suffices to say here that global emissions are still rising when survival requires us to be rapidly reducing them. 

COP will also be negotiating financial measures to help developing countries reduce emissions and adapt to global heating which is having severe effects like drought, flooding and tornadoes which increase hunger and migration. At Copenhagen in 2009, a goal of $100bn a year by 2020 was agreed. A questioner pointed out that this figure may seem massive, but it is just 5% of what the world spends on arms each year!  In Paris, $100bn was reiterated but the most recent figure for total climate finance is only $79.6bn. Many campaigners are calling not just for money for adaptations for countries in the Global South, but reparations for the damage and exploitation the rich countries have done to them over the years.

Boris Johnson will have a crucial role at the summit, facilitating discussions and mediating between the different blocks.   The UK has just cut Overseas Aid, which will make it difficult for the Prime Minister to take the moral high ground. 

Most COP discussion has been about reducing emissions, but for those in the Global South, the biggest issue is adaptation. Their emissions per head are already very low, but they are experiencing rapid and destabilising climate change. For them, the key issue is how they adapt and become more resilient. Adaptation is the poor relation in the media debate, and there is little profit in it for companies (unlike say, developing renewable energy) so little money flows into it.  Developing countries will seek to make adaptation and resilience a key issue at COP26.

These two issues, emissions reductions and resilience, won’t be formally negotiated at COP. They are decided, mainly by the rich countries, in advance, in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) each county announces and in meetings such as the G7. The most important issues will be settled before COP leaving the negotiations to decide on issues concerning the rules. 

At COP decisions are made by consensus. The majority are low-income states so they do have influence, especially when they form blocks such as the climate-vulnerable group.

The UK Government are aiming to “keep 1.5C alive”. They want a sufficient level of emissions reduction to make the 1.5C limit reachable. They want to raise the $100bn per year in climate finance from the developed countries by 2022 and aim for more subsequently. They want Governments around the world to commit to stop building coal-fired power stations and phase out petrol and diesel cars. They want international financial institutions to commit to scaling up investment in emissions reduction and adaptation. They want Governments and companies to slow down the rate of deforestation. Although these aims are laudable they don’t go anywhere near enough to turn around the climate crisis.

Catherine Fish is going to COP26 to represent Green Christian. She said “I’ll be there to pray for the decision-makers and to hold them to account to make wise and just decisions, because this moment of crisis requires all our voices for change to be heard, heeded and acted on. We hope that through us the voices of our brothers and sisters in the global south, already impacted severely by climate change, will be heard and we seek justice for them and future generations and for all life. We fear that this moment is in some ways too late.”

Fran Haddock, Climate Justice campaigner and Veterinary Surgeon, is also going. She says “At such a pivotal turning point for humanity we need mass mobilisation more than ever.  We should be fighting for a just, liveable future.”

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