Explainer: Why COP 26 risks failure?
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres on Monday said there is a high risk of failure of UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which is scheduled to be held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12, following a closed-door informal Leaders’ Level Climate Roundtable. He said the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted by 196 parties under the Paris Agreement so far do not represent emission cuts that could keep global warming under 1.5 degrees C (°C) or even 2°C over pre-industrial levels.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its Physical Science Basis report released last month flagged that each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. It added that surface temperature was 1.09°C higher in 2011-2020 than 1850–1900 period. Hot extremes; frequency of extremely heavy rainfall; the proportion of severe cyclones among other impacts have already increased manifold.
As we head towards 1.5°C warming, there will be an increasing occurrence of extreme weather events which are unprecedented in the observational record, the IPCC said. It added that with every additional 0.5°C warming, there will be a discernible increase in intensity and frequency of hot extremes, including heatwaves and flooding from heavy rainfall and sea-level rise in coastal cities. Further warming will amplify the loss of seasonal snow cover, melting of glaciers and ice sheets, ocean acidification, marine heat waves, and loss of summer Arctic Sea ice.
The IPCC’s model pathways stated that it was imperative that global net CO2 emissions decline by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 reaching net-zero emissions around 2050.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) conducted a review of NDCs submitted till July this year. A review was published in its NDC synthesis report released last week. The report said that NDCs of all parties taken together imply an increase in global greenhouse gas emissions of 16% in 2030 compared to 2010. According to the latest IPCC findings, such an increase, unless actions are taken immediately, may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7°C by the end of the century.
This is despite 113 parties submitting new or updated NDCs with greenhouse gas emissions projected to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010.
“To limit temperature, rise to 1.5°C, we need a 45% cut in emissions by 2030 so we can reach carbon neutrality by mid-century. Instead, the commitments made until now by countries imply an increase of 16% in greenhouse gas emissions – not a decrease of 45% – an increase of 16% in greenhouse gas emissions in 2030 compared to 2010 levels. This means that unless we collectively change course, there is a high risk of failure of COP26… Science tells us that anything above 1.5°C would be a disaster,” Guterres said on Monday.
What would make COP 26 a success?
Following the closed-door meeting with leaders, which was attended by Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, US Special envoy on climate John Kerry, representatives from extremely vulnerable countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Barbados, Fiji, Marshall Islands, etc, senior officials from UN briefed the media on the meeting. Certain issues remain unresolved ahead of COP 26 which could lead to a breakdown of talks. One of them is that the emission mitigation gap to meet the 1.5°C goal is far from being closed. Officials said every country may not have to announce a net-zero emission target by mid-century but their NDCs should put the world on track to achieve net-zero emissions globally by 2050. Similarly, there is an understanding that the NDCs may not get all the way to a 45% cut by 2030 but it has to be very close to that.
The second grey area is the pledge to mobilise USD 100 billion annually by 2020 made in 2009 which was key for enhancing climate action by developing countries. This fund hasn’t come through yet and NDC enhancements by emerging economies like India may be dependent on the delivery of this money. “We are expecting a delivery plan for 100 billion US dollars being drawn up by ministers from Germany and Canada to be presented before COP 26, but it depends on how that plan is taken by developing countries,” said an official from the UN. The third issue is finance for adaptation for climate-vulnerable countries.
Guterres has asked for at least 50% of total climate finance to be invested in adaptation, basically resilience building in poor and affected countries. Failure of COP 26 would mean loss of lives and livelihoods on a massive scale.
“I understand the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. Developed countries need to take the lead. But it is also essential for several emerging economies to go the extra mile and to effectively contribute to emissions reductions. We especially need leadership from all G20 members. They represent 80% of greenhouse gas emissions,” he added. He noted that failure to fulfil the 100-billion-dollar pledge would be a major source of the erosion of trust between developed and developing countries.
Officials said they are expecting some major announcements at the pre-COP in Milan between September 30 and October 2 and the G20 Summit on October 30 and 31.
Officials said along with the role of developed countries in taking larger cuts, China and India will also be important depending on how they plan to enhance their NDCs. Chinese President Xi Jinping first announced China’s commitment to reach “carbon neutrality before 2060” in a declaration at the UN General Assembly in September 2020. China has not yet officially submitted a long-term strategy to the UNFCC, according to Climate Action Tracker.
Kerry, during his recent visit to Delhi, also acknowledged that there were some differences in climate goals with China. “We had respectful exchanges (in his meetings last month) and negotiations and made some progress. But we did not agree yet on some components of the larger choices of how we address the climate crisis as we go into COP 26. But we agreed to meet again. Since I was in China, President Biden and President Xi Jinping had a number of conversations. I am hopeful that we can make some progress,” he had said.
R Krishnan, the director of the Centre for Climate Change Research at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and an IPCC author, said, “We are headed for a 1.5°C rise in about 20 years. If we fail to limit it, it will mean a further increase in extreme temperatures and weather events. If we are headed for 2°C, then with every half a degree warming in global mean temperature, the severity and frequency of extreme weather events will be amplified. There can be compounding of extreme events like tropical cyclones, flooding, storm surge leading to inundation of many coastal areas. We are already at around 1.1°C warming so it’s urgent that we limit global warming as per the Paris Agreement goals.”