In autumn 2021, Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, to strategize and tackle climate change issues. COP26 will host 197 nations, the largest conference on climate change to date. Given the failure of COP25 to meet its main goals and the unfortunate division between developed and developing countries, there are high expectations for the success of COP26.
The Conference is planned to address four major goals: mitigation, adaptation, finance and collaboration. Discussions will focus on lowering carbon emissions and seeking to find solutions that work for each and every country. The high hopes for a successful conference can however be overshadowed by issues underpinning global climate conversation such as the disparity between developed and developing countries, the yet new investments into fossil fuels and the gap between the public and global leaders.
COP26 will address mitigating global warming and increasing global temperatures. The Paris Agreement set out to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees and to achieve this, net zero carbon emissions must be reached by 2050 and in the next 10 years, the world must halve emissions.
The 197 nations’ second goal is adaptation, aiming to unite international actors and support the more vulnerable communities which are at a greater risk to suffer from climate change. One of the biggest challenges which remains is the disparity between developed and developing countries. The needs and goals of each, as well as their capability to meet certain aims remains a key challenge in creating a unified stance against climate change. Many of the more vulnerable countries have been hit harder by climate change than their developed counterparts, who in actuality have highly impacted and caused the climate crisis.
Needing adaptability and seriously addressing the vulnerable communities leads us to the third goal of financing. Developed countries have pledged at least $100bn per year in climate finance to support developing countries. This is imperative if the first two goals are to be met. COP26 is also expected to put emphasis on private finance and the necessity of private companies to make financial decisions with serious climate considerations.
To put this figure into perspective, the estimated global upstream investment in oil and gas for 2020 was $328bn according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Although it has fallen from previous years, the IEA has reported that if climate goals are to be met there must be no more fossil fuel investments and developments effective immediately. COP26 President-Designate Alok Sharma has also warned that the key to halting climate change is to put a stop to coal usage. The end to fossil fuels investments does not appear to be at the forefront for world powers or oil giants. Oil companies continue investments in new output, China is establishing power plants which are coal-fired and COP26 host, the United Kingdom, is authorising new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Completely stopping new investments in fossil fuels is difficult to believe in but it is extremely necessary. Its success lies in international cooperation and the ambitious goals which must be achieved. Cooperation is the fourth goal of COP26 and on the agenda is collectively finding solutions on carbon markets, transparency which promotes accountability and committing to governments, businesses and civil society working together.
Despite the expected emphasis on working together, there still seems to be distance between world leaders and the public. A protest has been planned during COP26 in the hopes of further elevating the conversation and giving voice to young people who are too often ignored by governments. Perhaps an attempt to bridge this gap is COP26’s plan of having a full day dedicated to young climate activists interviewing government members. This might be sparked following the case at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) where children have taken European states to court on the basis of the climate crisis. However, this might not be enough as the world leaders which should be at the lead of securing the climate future are those who seldom act in a way to prove their commitment is genuine or lead by example. Global leading bodies appear ready to hear the public, but are they ready to actually listen?
The COP26’s set goals appear to be well organised and tackling urgent issues, but there are still undeniable challenges which need to be addressed. The disparity between developed and developing countries remains at the forefront of challenges. The commitment of some developed countries to deal with climate issues is often questionable when investments in fossil fuels continue. There is also distrust in green policies from the public and young people especially.
COP26 is an opportunity for those who contribute most to the climate crisis to engage and truly act upon their promises to halt its severe impact.