COP26 Explained

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    COP stands for the “Conference of the parties” and this is the 26th iteration in response to the climate emergency. Every country on earth is treaty bound to attend the summit under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change also know as the UNFCCC. The goal of this summit is to fight dangerous climate change and identify how to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be the first summit since 2019 hosted by the UK in Glasgow.

    What is the purpose of COP?

    Although we do have the landmark Paris agreement which was signed in 2015, leaders are committed to maintaining global temperature surges below 2C above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to reduce heating to 1.5C which are legally mandatory and protected within the treaty.

    Additionally, leaders agreed to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which countries also agreed to cut. These non-binding national targets also know as nationally determined contributions (NDC’s) were agreed as part of the Paris temperature targets. It would be catastrophic if achieved as we would see increases of 3C or more.  The French built a “rachet mechanism” since the NDC’s were inadequate and put in place that countries could have to meet every five years with new commitments. Unfortunately, the pandemic stopped many countries meeting five years later as this fell during the COVID-19 pandemic on 31st December 2020.

    In preparation for COP26, all countries have been revising their NDC’s to meet the 1.5C target, the lower of the two Paris goals. It has been estimated that we must see a 45% decrease in emissions by 2030, to meet net zero.

    Why is 1.5C threshold so important?

    It has been proven the damage to the earth was much worse at 2C rather than a much safer 1.5C. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, part of the Paris agreement, was examining the affect the 1.5C would have on the earth.

    The 1.5C increase would cause rising sea levels, increase in heatwaves, floods, draughts, floods, strong storms, bleaching of coral reefs and dangerous weather conditions. These are much lower risks than those associated with an increase of 2C. The 1.5C target required huge efforts from world leaders and their associated as the IPCC confirmed that every fraction of a degree of increase is important.

    Climate change

    What about net zero?

    We must decrease burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions and related greenhouse gases from agriculture which produces methane. We must stop these and other industrial processes by mid-century to bring down these emissions. Anything that continues to emit emissions, must be offset by increasing the worlds carbon sinks like forest, wetlands and peatlands which are like vast carbon stores. This is the balance that is well known as net zero.

    When carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere, it will stay there for about a century, which means we could reach net zero by 2050 but still have released so much that the 1.5C threshold is inevitable. Therefore, the decade of the 2020’s must be focused on the climate crisis as it is a crucial turning point. With this focus, we have a chance of staying within the 1.5C target if emissions peak soon and quickly decreases.

    Is COP26 just about the 1.5C threshold?

    The long-term net zero goal is a focal point for leaders and joining countries, but the UK also wants to focus the summit on climate finance, phasing out the use of coal and nature-based solutions.

    Climate finance focuses on the finances from public and private sources that are given to poorer countries so they can cut their emissions and deal with the effects of severe weather. One of the most important factors is phasing out the use of coal which has already seem vast improvements.

    China is currently uses the most coal in the world but will break off financing new coal power plants overseas. These are only the first steps to phasing out the use of coal and there is still much more that needs to be done for climate change all over the world.

    It is vital nature-based solutions are protected as the destruction of the Amazon and other forests have a huge impact on climate change. This is why forests, wetlands and peatlands and other natural carbon sinks must be protected but some are arguing there is not rooms to plant all these trees, and this cannot fix the problem alone. Fossil fuels and methane must decrease to help reach these goals.

    What else will be discussed at COP26?

    Another topic of interest at the summit will be carbon trading which was initially discussed in Kyoto in 1997. This process is when rich countries would spread their carbon reduction with developing countries. No matter when the emissions are released into the atmosphere, they will still have the same affects. One country will pay to for projects like installing solar panels and then use these “carbon credits” for their own emission reducing targets.

    Why is COP26 so important?

    Climate change is the most important factor for our generation as if we want to reach net zero by 2050, we must act now. It is a vital time for world leaders to sustain global temperatures, provide money to countries hugely impacted by the climate crisis and to consign fossil fuels to history. The COVID-19 impact has not only delayed COP26 but has also had an affect on climate change and it will be discussed the roadmap to recover from the pandemic. Campaigners from around the world will travel to Glasgow to attend the summit and many other protests will take place to show world leaders how important climate change is for this generation.

    How does COP26 affect us?

    The decisions made at COP26 will have a huge impact on all our lives as these will affect us for decades to come. We are aware we need to cut emissions in half at the very minimum to keep global temperatures within the 1.5C threshold. If we do not meet the targets set out at COP26, we can expect to see a rise in climate disasters such as flood, wildfires and other devastation which will disrupt billions of people.

    Another way COP26 will affect all of us is the way in which governments implement the commitments. To make these global emissions changes, the government may make some changes to national policies which will affect everyone within the country.

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