Glasgow is now ready to host the United Nations Climate Change conference, popularly known as COP 26 (i.e. the 26th Conference of Parties). This year it will be hosted by the United Kingdom in collaboration with Italy. Since the Paris Agreement, there have been several challenges in the multilateral effort towards climate change adaptation and mitigation measures. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement in 2017. This had created huge difficulties for the international community and especially the low-income countries and developing countries in meeting their obligations for carbon emission reduction. A climate change adaptation and mitigation measure requires financing and investments too, and for low-income countries it is mostly difficult. Therefore, a global effort is required to mobilise resources and meet the COP 26 goals too. During the Copenhagen Summit of 2009, the developed countries promised to give $100 billion to the developing countries by 2020 to help meet their climate change obligations. But since this pledge has not been fulfilled, the developing countries have been demanding for it.
Since the Brundtland Commission defined “sustainable development” in 1987 and the subsequent Rio Summit (Earth Summit) in 1992, there has been an increased global attention by policy makers, think-tanks, industry professionals, academics and the civil society for making the earth a better place. The Earth Summit resulted in the signing of the Rio Declaration by 175 countries, proclaimed twenty-seven principles that focussed on health, environmental legislation, and other issues of public interest related to sustainability. In fact, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a legally binding commitment was also opened for signature by countries as part of the Rio Declaration.
Later, in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, but it was implemented in 2005 till the period of 2012. Being a binding commitment, it actually operationalised the UNFCCC. The Protocol called for a 5% carbon emission reduction compared to 1990 levels to be undertaken during 2008-2012. However, the Protocol could not yield the desired result, and at COP 21 i.e. the Paris climate change conference in 2015, Kyoto Protocol was replaced by the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement called for limit the global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius as compared to pre-industrial levels.
In February this year, President Joe Biden led the United States to join the Paris Agreement from which President Trump had pulled out in 2017. The U.S. re-joining this agreement came as a great relief to the international community and strengthened multilateral efforts for climate action. “Climate Action” was also incorporated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is SDG 13, and calls for taking urgent action to combat climate change. There are five targets mentioned as part of this SDG. Summarily, these include efforts towards building resilience and adaptive capacity for tackling natural disasters, aligning climate-related measures into national planning and policies, increasing awareness about climate change challenges, mobilising climate fund, and capacity-building for improved planning and management in vulnerable countries and marginalised communities across the world.
Today, as the world struggles to overcome the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic on peoples and businesses, focusing on climate change becomes ever more important. As per the COP 26 official web site, the key goals of COP 26 include the following: a) secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach, b) adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, c) mobilise finance, and, d) work together to deliver.
To fulfil these goals, specifically the international community must focus on some key aspects for climate action. Some such issues which need global attention to meet our climate change obligations are as follows:
1.Support livelihoods in coastal areas: The international community need to focus on resilient infrastructural development and support livelihoods especially in coastal areas which are more prone to natural disasters. Climate change is also gradually becoming one of the major causes of climate-induced human displacement. So, it is very important to preserve ecosystems and habitats.
2.Resource mobilisation: For tackling climate change related challenges, resource mobilisation is very crucial. As we have seen that with the unexpected withdrawal of the U.S. from Paris Agreement in 2017, climate related funding faced a major challenge. It was only after the U.S. re-joined the Agreement in 2021 that the multilateral efforts could be strengthened.
3.Protect terrestrial and marine ecosystem: Climate change causes ocean acidification, irregular rains and droughts, and can cause water and vector borne diseases. All these have been responsible for creating difficult living conditions both in land as well as in marine ecosystem. These ecosystems need to be protected through necessary multilateral agreements and climate financing both for Life below Water (SDG 14) as well as for Life on Land (SDG 15).
4.Invest on renewable energy: This is very critical in today’s context, and especially in the post-pandemic scenario. Countries need to build their capacity for renewable energy e.g. solar, wind, hydropower etc. This can help reduce energy consumption cost to the consumer, reduce fossil fuel dependence, and create jobs also.
5.Multilateral effort needed: This is a global challenge, and thus requires a global effort. Whether small islands like the Maldives faces the vulnerabilities related to climate change or the coastal communities in Vietnam are affected by it, no single country or a group of country can tackle this challenge alone. Also, there is a need for collaboration and cooperation between governments and the civil societies across the world for framing multilateral rules to combat climate change. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement also calls for enhanced international cooperation to help countries implement their obligations.
Therefore, COP 26 becomes a very significant framework on climate change, and the people in low-income and developing countries have huge expectations from it. The international community is looking forward to some practical outcomes that can support livelihoods and create a smooth transition to a post-pandemic world.