Mitigating a crisis: On COP26 Glasgow climate meet

Synopsis: The COP can at best incentivize adaptation that aids a transition towards clean energy.


In a week, heads of state from at least 120 countries are expected to convene in Glasgow for the 26th meeting of the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP). The annual two-week-long exercise was disrupted last year due to COVID-19.

What is COP 26?

In 1992, countries agreed to an international treaty called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which set ground rules and expectations for global cooperation on combating climate change. It was the first time the majority of nations formally recognized the need to control greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming that drives climate change.

That treaty has since been updated, including in 2015 when nations signed the Paris climate agreement. That agreement set the goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F), and preferably to 1.5 C (2.7 F), to avoid catastrophic climate change.

CoP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. The “parties” are the 196 countries that ratified the treaty plus the European Union. The United Kingdom, partnering with Italy, is hosting CoP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 through November 12, 2021, after a one-year postponement due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is COP26 significant?

The year 2020 was to have been an important year as most of the major economies were expected to review the actions undertaken so far in meeting voluntary targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement of 2015. However, the disruption has meant that these discussions will now move to Glasgow.

Moreover, the meet is also significant from US standpoint following its exit from the Paris Agreement under Trump administration. The Biden administration is making a concerted effort to commemorate the country’s return to the fold. To this end, it has sent emissaries and multiple delegations to several countries to coax them into committing to some sort of a deadline or a ‘net zero’ timeline by when their emissions would peak and eventually abate.

What are the targets toward which COP26 should aim for?

To limit global warming to 1.5°C consensus around following targets need to be achieved at COP26:

i). Achieving net zero emissions by 2050

ii). Cutting emissions drastically by at least 45% from 2010 levels

What are the issues that COP26 need to resolve?

Consensus at COP meetings is hard won because of different viewpoints of various stakeholders esp. the developed and developing countries.

– Developing countries argue that the climate crisis exists because of excess emissions by the developed West for more than a century. Hence, any attempt at solving the crisis should involve the western countries doing much more than what they have committed to and, at the very least, making good on promises already enshrined in previous editions of the COP.

Moreover, for developing countries, yielding to calls for ‘net zero’ also means that governments such as India will appear as having succumbed to international bullying.

– For developed countries, complying with the demand by developing countries to pay reparations means giving out sums of money unlikely to pass domestic political parameters.

What is the way forward?

The COP, therefore, can at best incentivize adaptation that aids a transition to clean energy.

Source: This post is based on the article “Mitigating a crisis: On COP26 Glasgow climate meet” published in The Hindu on 25th Oct 2021.

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