Yesterday marked the official start of the climate summit in Glasgow but the real action starts today, 1st November. We are in for two intensive weeks of negotiations and there’s a lot of burning issues on the agenda.
These COP meetings have of course been prepared for a very long time and the COP is certainly not the only time for collective climate action. However, there are some questions that cannot be solved without the attendance of top leaders at COP. Therefore, as a start, COP26 kicks off with a high-level segment that gathers national heads of state to attend the opening ceremony and also deliver their national statements.
In many ways, their statements will follow the usual pattern of:
1) acknowledging the importance of the issue at hand
2) (re-)assuring the national commitment to delivering on the Paris agreement
3) showcase what has been done at the national level.
That is usually a somewhat predictable exercise but what is more interesting is to what extend the heads of state reveal their priorities for the meeting, whether they present raised ambitions or if they bring new positions to the table.
Judging from the preparations and current state of climate politics, my analysis is that COP26 will mainly be about the following:
Climate finance. Will the Global Climate Fund (that was already agreed upon in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen) finally be fully funded? Of the promised yearly 100 billion USD there is still a gap of about 20 billions which is a big deal for developing nations. The missing money will be regarded as not honoring deals that have been made and then potentially undermine this years negotiations.
Raised ambitions. All nations under the Paris agreement have to bring updated NDCs (nationally determined contributions) with ramped up climate targets. The first NDC compilation, after COP21 in Paris, summed up to a global temperature rise by year 2100 to about 4 degrees. We enter COP26 with a lot higher goals from many countries corresponding to about 2.7 degrees warming, compared to pre-industrial times. However, it is still far from the Paris agreement that stipulated “well below 2 degrees, aiming for 1.5”. The G20 meeting that ended yesterday reassured that 1.5 degrees is the goal to aim for but how far can COP26 take us on this?
Sector deals. UK Prime minister Boris Johnson is hosting COP26 and during the runup to Glasgow he’s been advocating focus on “coal, cars, cash and trees”. This is a smart move, trying to complement current focus on national positions and traditional trenches between countries. By cutting the pollution cake differently he might manage to overcome national interests and strike deals between non-state actors. But COP meetings are primarily built around negotiations between nations, so will he succeed in shifting COP26’s focus?
The Paris Rulebook. There are still more than a few technicalities around the Paris agreement to sort out. This includes how to interpret, measure, share information and follow up on progress. Most pressingly the “Article 6” that addresses how emission reductions can be transferred between countries. The amount of work left “to do” in the Paris rulebook will affect the quality and speed in which the Paris agreement can be implemented.
Just transition and climate justice. When I attended COP24 In Katowice, Poland, it became clear to the COP negotiations that the climate transition is not only a matter of technically lowering emissions from different countries and sectors. It is very much about whether we manage to propose climate plans that include people from all nations and sectors. If the negative consequences are too big, on prices or employment, too many will oppose opting out of coal mines or increased petrol taxes and this will stop or severely slow the climate transition. In what way can the outcomes of COP26 support a just transition and also aid the most vulnerable countries to both climate adaptation and loss and damage?
There is a lot of high expectations and all of them will clearly not be delivered on. This is a meeting. Climate action is increasingly taking place outside the discussions of UNFCCC and perhaps the most important signals have already been sent. By agreeing in Paris the world knows that we will pursue the track towards a decarbonized world economy.
The train has already been put on the track and the journey has begun. Let’s see the two coming weeks what the COP26 can do to make that journey faster and better.