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COP26 – what we know so far, and why it matters

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In a world shaken by a pandemic, and a fast-closing window of opportunity to avoid climate catastrophe, the pivotal COP26 UN climate conference kicks off this Sunday in the Scottish city of Glasgow – the stakes could not be higher. 

“Without decisive action, we are gambling away our last chance to – literally – turn the tide”, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has said ahead of the meeting. But why could it be our last chance?

Here’s some answers we’ve found to the most common questions you might have about what’s coming up.

Let’s start with the basics, what is COP26?

To keep it simple, COP26 is the biggest and most important climate-related conference on the planet.

In 1992, the UN organised a major event in Rio de Janeiro called the Earth Summit, in which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, the treaty has 197 signatories.

Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, every year the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits or “COPs”, which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’.

This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but thanks to COVID-19, we’ve fallen a year behind due to last year’s postponement – hence, COP26.

So, what happens at COP26? Don’t we have enough meetings about climate change already?

Various “extensions” to the UNFCCC treaty have been negotiated during these COPs to establish legally binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, and to define an enforcement mechanism.

These include the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which defined emission limits for developed nations to be achieved by 2012; and the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, in which all countries of the world agreed to step up efforts to try and limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and boost climate action financing.

So, here’s where COP26 gets interesting: during the conference, among other issues, delegates will be aiming to finalise the ‘Paris Rulebook’, or the rules needed to implement the Agreement. This time they will need to agree on common timeframes for the frequency of revision and monitoring of their climate commitments.

Basically, Paris set the destination, limiting warming well below two degrees, (ideally 1.5) but Glasgow, is the last chance to make it a reality.

So, this bring us to our initial question: why is it the last chance?

Like a boa constrictor that slowly squeezes its prey to death, climate change has gone from being an uncomfortable low-level issue, to a life-threatening global emergency, in the past three decades.

Although there have been new and updated commitments made by countries ahead of COP26, the world remains on track for a dangerous global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century even if Paris goals are met.

The science is clear: a rise of temperatures of that magnitude by the end of the century could mean, among other things, a 62% increase in areas scorched by wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere during summer, the loss of habitat of a third of the mammals in the world, and more frequent four to 10 month-long droughts.

UN chief António Guterres bluntly calls it “climate catastrophe”, one that it is already being felt to a deadly degree in the most vulnerable parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa and Small Island States, lashed by rising sea levels. 

Millions of people are already being displaced and killed by disasters exacerbated by climate change.

For Mr. Guterres, and the hundreds of scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scenario of 1.5°C warming, is the “only liveable future for humanity”.

The clock is ticking, and to have a chance of limiting the rise, the world needs to halve greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

This is a gigantic task that we only will be able to do if leaders attending COP26 come up with bold, time-bound and front-loaded plans to phase out coal and transform their economies to reach so called net zero emissions.

Hmm, but didn’t countries like China and the United States already commit to net zero?

The most recent UN Emissions Gap Report explains that a total of 49 countries plus the European Union have pledged a net zero target.

This covers over half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, over half of global GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are enshrined in law, covering 12 per cent of global emissions.

Sounds great right? But there’s a catch: many of the commitments delay action until after 2030, raising doubts over whether these net zero pledges can actually be achieved. Also, many of these pledges are “vague” and inconsistent with the officially submitted national commitments, known as NDC’s.

This again explains why COP26 is so important: “The time has passed for diplomatic niceties…If governments – especially G20 governments – do not stand up and lead this effort, we are headed for terrible human suffering”, warned Guterres in the UN General Assembly this week.

So, what exactly is COP26 hoping to achieve (practically speaking)?

The official negotiations take place over two weeks. The first week includes technical negotiations by government officials, followed by high-level Ministerial and Heads of State meetings in the second week, when the final decisions will be made – or not.

There are four main points that will be discussed during the conference according to its host, the United Kingdom:

1.     Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

To do this, countries need to accelerate the phase-out of coal, curb deforestation, speed up the switch to greener economies.  Carbon market mechanisms will be also part of the negotiations.

2.     Adapt more to protect communities and natural habitats

Since the climate is already changing countries already affected by climate change need to protect and restore ecosystems, as well as build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure.

3.     Mobilise finance

At COP15, rich nations promised to channel $100 billion a year to less-wealthy nations by 2020 to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.

That promise was not kept, and COP26 will be crucial to secure the funds, with the help of international financial institutions, as well as set new climate finance targets to be achieved by 2025.

4.     Work together to deliver

This means establishing collaborations between governments, businesses and civil society, and of course, finalising the Paris Rulebook to make the Agreement fully operational.

In addition to formal negotiations, COP26 is expected to establish new initiatives and coalitions for delivering climate action.

How, when and where?

The main event will be held at the Scottish Event Campus, from 31 October to 12 November, with the possibility of negotiations spilling over an extra day or two. So far, there are over 30.000 people registered to attend representing governments, businesses, NGOs, and civil society groups.

The 197 Parties to the UNFCCC treaty, often get in groups or “blocs” to negotiate together such as the G77 and China, the Africa Group, the Least Developed Countries, the Umbrella Forum, the Small Island Developing States, and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The negotiations also include observers, which have no formal part in them but make interventions and help maintain transparency. Observers include United Nations agencies, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, faith-based groups, and the press.

But besides the official negotiations, there will be a conference, a pavilion, and thousands of side events happening, divided over thematic days, on topics like finance, energy, youth and public empowerment, nature, adaptation, gender, science and innovation, transport, and cities. 

The conference will happen across two zones – The Blue Zone (Scottish Events Campus), and the Green Zone located at the Glasgow Science Centre.

The Blue Zone is a UN-managed space where negotiations are hosted, and to enter all attendees must be credited by the UNFCCC Secretariat. 

The Green Zone is managed by the UK Government and open to the public. It will include events, exhibitions, workshops and talks to promote dialogue, awareness, education and commitments on climate change.

Anyone famous attending?

Several heads of state and government including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden are expected to attend. Other famous faces in Glasgow will include Sir David Attenborough, the COP26 people’s advocate, activist Greta Thunberg, the famous Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams and singer-songwriter and UNEP ambassador Ellie Goulding. The Queen announced with regret, on Tuesday, that she would not be travelling to the event’s main reception after all.

The United Nations newest SDG ambassadors K-pop superstars BLACKPINK will be also joining the event. The Korean all-girl group released a video before their appearance, sharing a sneak peek of their heartfelt message to inspire climate action.

And with such a big conference, are there any special COVID-19 measures?

While COVID-19 continues to be a huge challenge across the world, tackling the climate crisis cannot wait according to the COP26 hosts.  

In-person negotiations are preferred over online ones, to ensure inclusive participation by high and low-income countries as well as ensuring scrutiny and transparency.

Fully vaccination is encouraged for those attending the conference, and the United Kingdom ran a programme ahead of time, to deliver vaccines to participants living in countries unable to get one.

There will also be strict COVID-19 testing protocols in place, including daily testing for everyone entering the Blue Zone to ensure the health and wellbeing of all those involved and the surrounding community.

There are also COP-specific arrangements for the COVID Travel Regime people will encounter as they enter England and Scotland, with some countries requiring quarantine (which will be funded by the UK Government for attendees in difficult circumstances.

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UNIDO and the Alliance to End Plastic Waste partner to scale circular solutions to plastic waste

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A cooperation framework for jointly tackling global plastic waste using circular economy approaches was signed today by LI Yong, Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), and Jacob Duer, President and CEO of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste (Alliance).

Through the partnership, UNIDO and the Alliance aim to develop, implement and scale projects and programmes to advance plastics circularity. The collaboration will also help to facilitate knowledge sharing and best practices to support inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

A transition to a circular plastics economy would reduce the presence of plastics in the environment while maintaining the value of plastic materials for as long as possible. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the creation of new and inclusive jobs and cost savings to governments, are some of the significant environmental and socio-economic co-benefits of transitioning to a circular plastics economy.

LI Yong, UNIDO Director-General, expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership. “Ending plastic waste in the environment will require new business models, technologies, perspectives and partnerships. We are pleased to enter this partnership with the Alliance and bring our expertise in circular economy solutions to bear in solving this environmental crisis.”

Jacob Duer, President and CEO of the Alliance, said, “We are investing in projects and solutions that can scale and will be able to deliver long-term benefits to the environment and to the communities where they are situated. We are excited to partner with UNIDO to amplify the impact of our mission to end plastic waste in the environment and support inclusive and sustainable development.”

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COP26 closes with ‘compromise’ deal on climate, but it’s not enough

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Negotiators marking the closing of the United Nations climate summit, COP26, which opened in Glasgow, Scotland, on 31 October. The conference sought new global commitments to tackle climate change. UN News/Laura Quiñones

After extending the COP26 climate negotiations an extra day, nearly 200 countries meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, adopted on Saturday an outcome document that, according to the UN Secretary-General, “reflects the interests, the contradictions, and the state of political will in the world today”.

“It is an important step but is not enough. We must accelerate climate action to keep alive the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees”, said António Guterres in a video statement released at the close of the two-week meeting.

The UN chief added that it is time to go “into emergency mode”, ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities, and delivering the $100 billion climate finance commitment.

“We did not achieve these goals at this conference. But we have some building blocks for progress,” he said.

Mr. Guterres also had a message to young people, indigenous communities, women leaders, and all those leading the charge on climate action.

“I know you are disappointed. But the path of progress is not always a straight line. Sometimes there are detours. Sometimes there are ditches. But I know we can get there. We are in the fight of our lives, and this fight must be won. Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward”.

A snapshot of the agreement

The outcome document, known as the Glasgow Climate Pact, calls on 197 countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt.

The outcome also firms up the global agreement to accelerate action on climate this decade.

However, COP26 President Alok Sharma struggled to hold back tears following the announcement of a last-minute change to the pact, by China and India, softening language circulated in an earlier draft about “the phase-out of unabated coal power and of inefficient subsidies for fossil fuels”. As adopted on Saturday, that language was revised to “phase down” coal use.

Mr. Sharma apologized for “the way the process has unfolded” and added that he understood some delegations would be “deeply disappointed” that the stronger language had not made it into the final agreement.

By other terms of the wide-ranging set of decisions, resolutions and statements that make up the outcome of COP26, governments were,among other things, asked to provide tighter deadlines for updating their plans to reduce emissions.

On the thorny question of financing from developed countries in support of climate action in developing countries, the text emphasizes the need to mobilize climate finance “from all sources to reach the level needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, including significantly increasing support for developing country Parties, beyond $100 billion per year”.

1.5 degrees, but with ‘a weak pulse’ 

“Negotiations are never easy…this is the nature of consensus and multilateralism”, said Patricia Espinosa, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

She stressed that for every announcement made during the past two weeks, the expectation is that the implementation “plans and the fine print” will follow.

Let us enjoy what we accomplished but also prepare for what is coming,” Ms. Espinosa said, after recognizing the advancements on adaptation, among others.

Meanwhile, COP26 President Alok Sharma stated that delegations could say “with credibility” that they have kept 1.5 degrees within reach.

“But its pulse is weak. And it will only survive if we keep our promises. If we translate commitments into rapid action. If we deliver on the expectations set out in this Glasgow Climate Pact to increase ambition to 2030 and beyond. And if we close the vast gap that remains, as we must,” he told delegates.

He then quoted Prime Minister Mia Mottley, who earlier in the conference had said that for Barbados and other small island states, ‘two degrees is a death sentence.’  With that in mind, Mr. Sharma asked delegates to continue their efforts to get finance flowing and boost adaptation

He concluded by saying that history has been made in Glasgow. 

“We must now ensure that the next chapter charts the success of the commitments we have solemnly made together in the Glasgow Climate Pact, he declared.

The ‘least worst’ outcome

Earlier during the conference’s final stocktaking plenary, many countries lamented that the package of agreed decisions was not enough. Some called it “disappointing”, but overall, said they recognized it was balanced for what could be agreed at this moment in time and given their differences.

Countries like Nigeria, Palau, the Philippines, Chile and Turkey all said that although there were imperfections, they broadly supported the text.

“It is (an) incremental step forward but not in line with the progress needed. It will be too late for the Maldives. This deal does not bring hope to our hearts,” said the Maldives’ top negotiator in a bittersweet speech.

US climate envoy John Kerry said the text “is a powerful statement” and assured delegates that his country will engage constructively in a dialogue on “loss and damage” and adaptation, two of issues that proved most difficult for the negotiators to agree upon.

“The text represents the ‘least worst’ outcome,” concluded the top negotiator from New Zealand.

Other key COP26 achievements

Beyond the political negotiations and the Leaders’ Summit, COP26 brought together about 50,000 participants online and in-person to share innovative ideas, solutions, attend cultural events and build partnerships and coalitions.

The conference heard many encouraging announcements. One of the biggest was that leaders from over 120 countries, representing about 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030,  the date by which the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to curb poverty and secure the planet’s future are supposed to have been achieved.

There was also a methane pledge, led by the United States and the European Union, by which more than 100 countries agreed to cut emissions of this greenhouse gas by 2030.

Meanwhile, more than 40 countries – including major coal-users such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile – agreed to shift away from coal, one of the biggest generators CO2 emissions.

The private sector also showed strong engagement with nearly 500 global financial services firms agreeing to align $130 trillion – some 40 per cent of the world’s financial assets – with the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, including limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Also, in a surprise for many, the United States and China pledged to boost climate cooperation over the next decade. In a joint declaration they said they had agreed to take steps on a range of issues, including methane emissions, transition to clean energy and decarbonization. They also reiterated their commitment to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

Regarding green transport, more than 100 national governments, cities, states and major car companies signed the Glasgow Declaration on Zero-Emission Cars and Vans to end the sale of internal combustion engines by 2035 in leading markets, and by 2040 worldwide.  At least 13 nations also committed to end the sale of fossil fuel powered heavy duty vehicles by 2040.

Many ‘smaller’ but equally inspiring commitments were made over the past two weeks, including one by 11 countries which created the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). Ireland, France, Denmark, and Costa Rica among others, as well as some subnational governments, launched this first-of-its kind alliance to set an end date for national oil and gas exploration and extraction.

A quick refresher on how we got here

To keep it simple, COP26 was the latest and one of the most important steps in the decades long, UN-facilitated effort to help stave off what has been called a looming climate emergency.

In 1992, the UN organized a major event in Rio de Janeiro called the Earth Summit, in which the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted.

In this treaty, nations agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere” to prevent dangerous interference from human activity on the climate system. Today, the treaty has 197 signatories.

Since 1994, when the treaty entered into force, every year the UN has been bringing together almost every country on earth for global climate summits or “COPs”, which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’.

This year should have been the 27th annual summit, but thanks to COVID-19, we’ve fallen a year behind due to last year’s postponement – hence, COP26.

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Cooling community announces steps to beat global warming with GBP 12M boost from UK

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The UN-led Cool Coalition today announced a series of steps to reduce the climate impact of the cooling industry, including a GBP 12 million boost from the UK Government, the host of COP26.

Just 1.5°C of global warming, a temperature limit the world currently looks set to far exceed could leave 2.3 billon people vulnerable to heatwaves. Cooling will be essential to protect human health and productivity under such circumstances – but 7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from cooling already.

“The need for cooling in our daily lives – to protect people against heat extremes – will grow. But the way we cool our homes and workplaces is a major driver of climate change. Today, around 10 per cent of the world’s electricity is used for air conditioning. If left unchecked, emissions related to cooling are expected to double by 2030, driven by heat waves, population growth, urbanization and the demands of a growing middle class,” said Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director.

A transition to efficient and climate friendly cooling, including natural solutions, could allow the expansion of cooling and avoid 4-8 years of global emissions. This includes work under the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to replace climate-warming gases, known as hydrofluorocarbons, that are used as refrigerant gases.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, Minister for Pacific and the Environment at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said, “I am delighted that we have announced GBP 12 million of Defra Official Development Assistance programming today to provide valuable assistance to developing countries, enabling them to make rapid progress on reducing hydrofluorocarbons and adopting energy efficient cooling solutions.

“This funding will support vital work to address inefficient cooling technologies and help develop a resilient and sustainable food supply chain in Africa, delivering the first African centre of excellence for rural cooling and cold chain.”

Cool Commitments

Partners have set out a comprehensive agenda to begin delivering on the climate potential of the cooling industry in the wake of COP26. Through its membership of over 120 countries, cities, companies and investors, and other organizations, the Cool Coalition has been an essential catalyst for the Race to Zero in accelerating global efforts and commitments on sustainable cooling.

Some highlights include:

  • 14 cooling suppliers have joined the Race to Zero, representing 28% of the residential AC market. They are ready to supply solutions aligned with their customers’ net-zero commitments. See how Trane and Electrolux are doing this.
  • Gree and Haier committed to bring to market by 2025 residential AC units that have five times less climate impact.
  • 14 countries made the largest government commitment ever to double product efficiency globally by 2030, with a focus on AC, refrigerators, motors and lighting (accounting for 40 per cent of global electricity).
  • EP100 has doubled its membership during the UK’s Presidency of the COP, so more cooling manufacturers and buyers are improving their energy productivity.
  • 53 enhanced Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) have integrated sustainable cooling.
  • 25 countries have committed to developing National Cooling Action Plans.
  • 16 cities have committed to tackle extreme heat using the newly launched Beating the Heat: A Sustainable Cooling Handbook for Cities
  • Energy Efficiency Services Limited committed USD 50million for the development of sustainable cold chain projects in India
  • The UK announced 12 million of Defra Official Development Assistance programming today to make rapid progress on reducing hydrofluorocarbons and adoption of energy efficient cooling solutions. Multilateral Development Banks committed at least USD185 million to stimulate investment in sustainable cooling. 

In support of these commitments, an unprecedented surge of implementation will fill 2022 and beyond. These implementation efforts will go a long way in turning commitments into emissions reduction and increase resilience.

“Cooling is becoming increasingly critical to strengthen our resilience to a warming world. National, local and business commitments to reducing emissions urgently need to translate into implementation that can keep the world cool and achieve net zero in time,” said Nigel Topping, COP26 High Level Climate Champion.

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