Green Finance Advisor of Friends of the Earth (HK)

The U.N. summit in Glasgow, known as COP26, brought together thousands of diplomats, scientists and environmental activists from around the world to assess progress since the Paris climate accord was signed in 2015. It is being held from 31 Oct 2021 to 12 Nov 2022.

What is COP26?

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties.” The parties refer to 197 nations that agreed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at a meeting in 1992. Officials from 197 countries gather in one to discuss how they are solving the climate crisis. This is the 26th time countries have gathered under the convention, hence, COP26. COP26 was due to be held in 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.

What happens at COP meetings?

They are a platform for achieving consensus on cutting emissions and adapting to the extreme weather events caused by rising temperatures and sea levels. A sticking point of negotiations over the years has been allowing for poor countries to develop their economies while recognizing that rich nations have grown wealthy because they were able to pollute.

In 2009, the COP process suffered a major setback after leaders failed to agree on a global deal in Copenhagen. Six years later, talks were back on track, leading to the Paris Agreement — the international effort to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels, with a “stretch target” of 1.5°C.

Why is this year special?

America’s climate envoy John Kerry says the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow is the “last best hope for the world to get its act together”. Mr Kerry told the BBC that key countries were pursuing policies that border on being “very dangerous”. It’s time for signatory countries to update their initial pledges to help achieve the Paris goals. These promises are called NDCs — Nationally Determined Contributions — and most date back to 2016, when the Paris Agreement took effect. It was clear that initial commitments wouldn’t be enough, so countries agreed to come back in 2020 with “enhanced” NDCs. But many countries haven’t yet submitted their new plans, including China and India, some of the world’s biggest emitters.

Part of the problem is that wealthy countries haven’t delivered on their decade-old pledge to mobilize $100 billion a year to help poor countries deal with the hazards of climate change, such as storms, floods and rising sea levels. Countries such as Bangladesh and Indonesia say they can’t raise their emissions ambition without more cash from developed countries.

Who is lagging on their commitments?

While many European countries and U.K. have increased their climate aid, the U.S. hasn’t kept pace. At the UN on Sept. 21, Biden doubled the latest U.S. pledge to $11.4 billion annually beginning in 2024, but that still has to be approved by Congress, and activists argue it doesn’t come close to the U.S.’s fair share for the fund. The U.S. fell behind partly because former President Donald Trump temporarily pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord.

Days before it hosts United Nations negotiations over how to ramp up the global fight against climate change, the U.K. released a sweeping plan to decarbonize its economy by targeting everything from the finance industry to home heating. What are the other challenges?

The global energy crunch also threatens to make the Glasgow talks more difficult as fossil fuel producers and some developing nations use the crisis to argue for a slower transition. 

What about China?

President Xi Jinping has not left China for almost two years but there are hopes that he may yet make a surprise appearance. In a boost to the summit, China hailed Cop26 as ‘deeply significant’ and pledged to send a delegation, which will include special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, who said that China wanted to work with the international community and would do its best to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.

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