Could the COP26 conference help us end the climate crisis?

Krista Greenaway

Krista Greenaway

cop26 conference poster in partnership with italy 2021

We are incredibly excited that after months of delay due to COVID-19, Glasgow’s COP26 conference will finally take place, succeeding  previous “Conference of the Parties” events, hosting the latest plan of action to fight climate change across the world.

This year will hone in on the effectiveness of agreements made in Paris back in 2015, modern climate change reports, the pressure to meet promised climate change targets and perhaps the most scandalous being the shunning of activists and indigenous voices from the Global South who have failed to attend due to exorbitant pricing of hotels, vaccine inequality, and strict border rules as a result of COVID-19.

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cop23 climate change event leaders meet in Bonn for discussion

What happened at the previous COP ‘Conference of the parties’ events?

COP23

The 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP23) was held at the World Conference Centre in Bonn, Germany. Home of the UN’s Climate Secretariat. The former German capital last played host to the COP in 1999, where delegates worked together to devise the rules for the Kyoto Agreement.

There were several topics on the agenda for COP23, such as; the Talanoa Dialogue, the Warsaw Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change rolled out in 2015. The objective of the Paris Agreement is to keep the global average temperature as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve these long term temperature goals, countries needed to implement climate positive protocols to achieve a climate-neutral world by the year 2050. 

COP24

The 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24) was held at the International Congress Centre in Katowice, Poland, and took place between the 2nd-15th December 2018.

Michał Kurtyka, who is the Secretary of State and an expert in the field of energy, presided over COP24. This was the third time that Poland has hosted the conference, previously organising COP14 in 2008, held in Poznań, and COP19 in 2013, held in Warszawa.

Guest speakers included the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg…

Sir David Attenborough spoke out on reaching the crucial “crunch point” of climate change back in 2018 stating that the collapse of civilization and the natural world is on the horizon. 18-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg also addressed leaders: For 25 years countless people have come to the UN Climate [Change] Conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she said. “I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.” 

Greta Thunberg holding her infamous “skolstrejk för klimatet” sign

A primary objective of COP24 was to make decisions that would ensure the full implementation of the Paris Agreement. The implementation package was to give a realistic shape to the Paris Agreement, setting out a path that each country will follow in terms of intensifying climate protection efforts.

The aim of the implementation package was to adopt rules which would create a systematic solution for the whole world. This would replace the point-based discussion on fragmented objectives that do not allow for comprehensive climate change facts to all the most important areas of emissions such as; transport, energy, buildings, and agriculture. Katowice was to make progress on the fundamental elements of the Paris Agreement, without which it would not be able to function in practice.

COP25

The 25th annual Conference of the Parties (COP25) was held in Madrid, Spain, and was scheduled between the 2nd-13th December 2019. Initially, COP25 was to take place in Brazil in November 2019. A year before the planned start of the UN Climate Change Conference, newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the offer of hosting the event, citing economic reasons. 

Chile took over the role of host, however, they were forced to withdraw…

Chile were set to host COP25, but due to social unrest against President Sebastian Pinera’s government- they were forced to withdraw. Presiding over the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid was Chilean Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt.

The world’s biggest polluters, such as the United States and Brazil, blocked non-binding measures that were being put in place to encourage countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future. The US pushed back on numerous proposals during the UN Climate Change Conference, including the compensation to developing countries for their losses as a result of ever the increasingly intense results of climate change, including; storms, droughts, and rising sea levels. China and India were not on board with the suggestion of even more ambitious targets for the following year

What is article 6 - The issue climate negotiators cannot agree - With Climate Change News.com

Article 6

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement was to be resolved at COP25 as there was no agreement that could be made at COP24 the previous year. Article 6 contains three separate mechanisms for voluntary cooperation towards climate goals, two of which are based on markets and the third being based on non-market approaches.

The 3 Mechanisms:

  1. The first mechanism allows countries that have already beaten their Paris Climate pledge to sell any overachievement to the nations that have fallen short on their goals.
  2. The second mechanism is to create an international carbon market that is governed by a UN body. This mechanism would be for trading emissions reductions around the world between the public or private sectors.
  3. The third and final mechanism is for non-market approaches and would provide a formal framework for the climate cooperation between nations, where no trade is involved.

These are the last pieces of the agreement to be resolved, with the rest having already been decided at the UN Climate Change Conference 2018. 

The talks were unable to reach a consensus in many areas and the decisions on Article 6, with the requirements for transparency and common timeframes for the climate pledges, were delayed to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, 2021.

cop26 conference poster in partnership with italy 2021

COP26 conference – crunch time

The Paris Agreement has been a huge part of the UN Climate Change conferences and unfortunately, the pressing issues that remain have still not been resolved.

COP25 was widely denounced as “one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations” and the resolution of Article 6 had to be pushed to COP26- now being held in November 2021- after having to postpone the originally scheduled 2020 COP26 conference due to COVID-19.

The UK will be taking on the role of host to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, UK, on the 1st-12th November 2021.

Frustrations are high this year, with climate change scientists agitated that they are not being listened too, activists protesting that leader’s have yet again failed to fulfil their promises to effectively tackle climate change and climate change leaders giving up hope that their mechanisms and protocols are ineffective. 

What will the COP26 conference aim to achieve?

A climate change conference is a big event with many, many different factors for leaders to look into. In its simplicity, here are some of the key areas’s the COP26 conference will primarily look into:

  • Continued development to effectively implement and resolve issues surrounding the Paris Agreement. 
  • Implement a sustainable structure to secure global net-zero targets by 2050 and keep within the 1.5ºC warming limit.
  • Protect communities and natural habitats as well as implement greener lifestyle solutions.
  • Mobilise finance by raising and delivering adequate climate funding to developing countries.

From a facts and figures standpoint- the recently published 6th Assessment Report (AR6) from the IPCC evaluated and concluded that under all five of the ’emissions scenarios’ scrutinised, none of them shows us avoiding global warming above the 1.5ºC limit. We are currently on track for somewhere between 2.1ºC to 3.5ºC warming before the end of this century.

In order for the COP26 conference to be somewhat successful in its aims, it will need to produce some of the most assertive and ambitious climate commitment outcomes that we have seen to date.

For emissions and global warming in particular the IPCC reported that the world would need to cut emissions by 50% by the year 2030 and by 100% by the year 2050.

What outcomes can we expect from the COP26 conference?

With the history of COP- expected outcomes are unpredictable until the conferenced is over, and the next one is scheduled. With that being said, we do know some of the primary discussions that will take place:

  1. The Paris Agreement revised
    COP 26 is intended to be the first event at which the ‘ratchet mechanism’ from the Paris Agreement is implemented. The ratchet mechanism sees that all parties’ must update their NCDs (Nationally Determined Contribution) every 5 years. NDCs are the emissions reductions plans set by individual nations that centralise their climate change goals. Having this 5-year revision means that nations not only have a deadline to action their set NCDs but also an incentive to consistently heighten their ambitions every 5 years.
  2. New climate pledges
    Pledges to save the environment are the epicentre of COP events. All discussions inevitably end with a new climate change pledge or solution to which global leaders will have to follow in order to meet targets. This year will most likely see the increase in the use of electric vehicles and the phase-out of coal.
  3. Financial justice
    Many poorer countries that have been subject to climate destruction or simply cannot afford to implement adequate-scale climate change structures will (hopefully) see justice. The UK Youth Climate Coalition has published its Youth Demands for Climate Justice – a call for the UK government to achieve climate justice on the national and international stage. Alongside efforts to try and resolve the issue of the $100 billion annual sums that richer countries had pledged to give to developing countries back in 2009- which, so far, has never materialised.
  4. Resolution of Article 6 (Paris Agreement)
    As mentioned, Article 6 proved problematic back at COP25 and was shunted until it’s the revision that is now due to unfold at the COP26 conference. Exact rules for the implementation of Article 6 are currently missing from the current “Paris Rulebook”. The outcome (if any) will fill any blanks in the Paris Agreement framework and will have huge implications on trading within carbon markets worldwide.

there is no planet b climate change protest poster

When will we know if the COP26 conference has been successful?

With the COP26 conference taking place over a 2 week period, we can be at ease knowing that action will be undertaken following its cessation. Results, however, will continue to materialise after the event’s finale. 

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