COP26: Last Call for the Climate Emergency
The 26th UN Climate Conference has started today in Glasgow, UK. And there are great expectations on it.
By Paulo Lima and Roberto Barbiero
Translation: Sofia Lima
The ONU Climate Change Conference (COP26) that is going to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, from 31 October to 12 November is likely to be a last call for the world’s governments to take the necessary and urgent steps to address the current environmental crisis and prevent climate change from spiralling out of control.
The recent climate report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), described as a ‘code red for humanity’ by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, found that ‘climate is changing faster and more intensely than expected while global action to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions, halt global warming and tackle the climate crisis is still totally insufficient’.
The scientific community has pointed out that the role of human activities in global warming is unequivocal and that the Earth’s temperature has increased at an unprecedented rate, at least in the last 2000 years, reaching a threshold of 1.1°C compared to the pre-industrial era.
The impacts on natural systems are now evident. Sea levels continue to rise, up 20 cm since 1901, oceans are warming, continental and sea ice is shrinking, and the Arctic Ocean has lost 40% of its size since 1979. Extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and subsequent floods, but also heat waves and droughts, are becoming more frequent and intense, and together they contribute to conditions favourable to fires, as happened in the Mediterranean area in the summer.
The call from the scientific world is clear: without a rapid and substantial reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, it will be impossible to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. These goals call for limiting warming to 2°C by the end of the century compared with the pre-industrial period, but doing everything possible to keep the increase to below 1.5°C. This is to avoid reaching thresholds that are too high or too low. All this is to avoid reaching thresholds that would make certain physical processes underway irreversible, such as the melting of ice, rising sea levels and the loss of ecosystems, which would have catastrophic effects on the survival of the human species.
In the face of this climate emergency, countries are presenting themselves on the eve of COP26 with not very comforting signals, as highlighted for example by the recent UNEP “Emissions Gap Report 2021” on the gap between recorded emissions and the reduced emissions that would be necessary to keep global warming within the limits set by the Paris Agreement. The new voluntary national contributions (Nationally Determined Contributions-NDCs), which quantify the renewed commitments to contribute to the Paris Agreement targets, show little progress and are wholly insufficient both in the short term, to 2030, and in the long term, to 2050, when climate neutrality, i.e. the balance between anthropogenic emissions and GHG removals, is expected to be achieved. Renewed commitments to reduce greenhouse gases, even if actually implemented, would still lead to an estimated temperature increase of 2.7°C, which is unsustainable for the planet.
The major economies, gathered around the G20 group, responsible for some 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions, are showing very mixed signals. The United States, Europe and the United Kingdom are the countries that have formally presented the biggest emission reduction commitments, China and Japan have only made a promise of improvement, Brazil and Mexico have even worsened their commitments, predicting an increase in emissions, while India has not yet made any statements.
The UNEP report also shows that most countries have completely missed the opportunity to use the resources provided for rescuing and stimulating economies that have been challenged by COVID-19, while promoting the transformation to low-carbon economies.
What is expected from COP26 is therefore a rapid change of gear and there are at least four priorities on the negotiation table on which the success or otherwise of the meeting will depend.
The ambitions of national plans (NDCs) must be increased to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in particular in the energy production and consumption sectors (industry, transport, housing) and in the food sector (livestock and intensive agriculture, processing and distribution systems, food waste and waste), as well as to immediately reduce the exploitation of forests and soils. Commitments must look to the horizon of climate neutrality to be reached by 2050, planning to break the economy’s dependence on the use of fossil fuels;
Commitments to provide financial support to countries with the greatest difficulties need to be fulfilled, particularly with regard to the promise made by developed countries 10 years ago to mobilise $100 billion per year to support developing countries in their climate mitigation and adaptation policies;
Pending negotiations must be concluded, particularly on the transparency mechanisms between countries and the regulations needed to make the Paris Climate Agreement operational. One issue to be resolved will be the rules of Article 6, which would allow carbon market instruments, such as emissions trading, and non-market instruments, such as fiscal measures, such as carbon pricing or the application of taxes to discourage emissions, to become operational;
Progress is needed to implement adaptation actions and funding to protect and restore ecosystems and to support protection, prevention and warning systems against the danger of extreme events, especially in developing countries.
The world will therefore be looking to COP26 in the hope that a real breakthrough in climate action will be achieved. Time is running out. The role of civil society and non-governmental organisations, which will be present in Glasgow as observers, will be crucial in lobbying the delegates of the various countries.
A fundamental contribution is coming from the young people who are coming to Glasgow with the first “Youth4Climate Manifesto“, a manifesto that gathers the ideas and proposals that emerged in Milan, at the end of September, during the “Youth4Climate Driving Ambition” event, which were then discussed in subsequent consultation meetings. Among the many important proposals, young people ask to be involved from now on “in all decision-making processes” related to climate change.
The young people of TrentinoLa will also play their part. In fact, a delegation of 12 young people, including university students and researchers, will participate in COP26 as part of the “Climate Vision” project, promoted by the Viração&Jangada association, also with the support of the Autonomous Province of Trento. The young people will work in team with young people from other European, African and Latin American countries within the Youth Press Agency and will report about the event through the use of participatory journalism techniques, producing articles, photos and videos. The group will use the website www.youthpressagency.org and social media (www.facebook.com/youthpressagency; instagram @stampagiovanile) as a dissemination platform, but also other more traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and local and national magazines.