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[Burning Issue] Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP 26)

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United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC), also known as COP26 is scheduled to be held in the city of Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November 2021.

Let us look at in detail the UNFCCC and the latest COP26.

Climate change: A disaster in making

  • Anthropogenic climate change can be traced back to the industrial revolution.
  • The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas has increased to 415 parts per million (ppm) from 280 ppm since then.
  • A global momentum, therefore, was required to get all countries on board.

Realization of climate action: Birth of UNFCCC

  • The idea led to the formation of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC, also known as ‘The Convention’) in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • The convention divided the countries on the basis of their differing commitments: Annex I and II consisted of industrialized and developed countries and Non-Annex I comprised developing countries.

A timeline

The Conference of Parties (CoP) is the supreme decision-making body at the convention and comprises states that are party to it.

COP 1:

  • At CoP1 in Berlin 1995, the Convention highlighted the shortcomings of UNFCCC — the voluntary nature of the agreement.
  • It stressed how no substantive action was taken to address the cause against climate change, which in turn put forward the need for “legally binding” actions.

COP 2:

  • The proposal of legally binding targets was further emphasised upon in COP2 in Geneva in 1996.

COP 3:

  • In COP3 in Kyoto in 1997, the legally binding targets were approved of by different countries. They came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • It is considered to be one of the most important steps despite its late acceptance for it paved the way for further negotiations through legally binding targets for Annex I countries and establishment of carbon markets.
  • The mechanisms proposed by Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions included Joint Implementation, Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and Emissions Trading.

COP 4 and COP 5:

  • In COP4 in 1998 and COP5 in 1999, the rulebook for implementing the Kyoto Protocol was on the process with the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action in COP4, along with continued negotiation efforts in COP5.

COP 7:

  • In COP7 in Marrakesh in 2001, the guidelines for flexible mechanisms of joint implementation, CDM markets, emissions trading was agreed upon. It came to be known as the Marrakesh Accord.
  • It was particularly important because mitigation efforts had already started and special attention was given to developing countries.
  • It asked them to build their capacities and ensuring technology transfer through least developed countries (LDC) Fund, special climate change fund (SCCF) and adaptation fund.

COP 8:

  • The COP8 in 2002, which was held in “New Delhi”, emphasised on adaptation measures and stressed that poverty alleviation and development were the utmost priority of developing countries.

COP 10:

  • The future course of action was discussed in COP10 in Montreal in 2005 after Russia ratified the Protocol in 2004 at COP10 in Argentina.
  • A two-track approach was formed, which included the constructive implementation of UNFCCC as well as formation an ad-hoc committee for the Kyoto Protocol.

COP 15:

  • Copenhagen COP 2009 was set by the ad-hoc working group on Kyoto protocol formed during Montreal COP 2005.
  • The group agreed to have a deal in 2009 regarding a legally binding climate regime from 2012-2020.
  • The discussions lost track when developed countries started advocating for burden-sharing with developing countries.

COP 16:

  • The disappointment of Copenhagen was turned into an opportunity in Cancun 2010, where the Copenhagen Accord was accepted.
  • It looked forward to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and established the Cancun Adaptation Framework.
  • For the first time, a temperature target of 2 degrees Celsius was included. The Green climate fund was formed and developed countries agreed to contribute.

COP 17:

  • Following Cancun, Durban COP 2011 took place wherein the seed of the Paris Agreement was sown.
  • The seed started sprouting in Doha COP 2012, where countries decided to avoid the gap between Kyoto and next legal climate regime.
  • So, the second regime of Kyoto was decided from 2012-2020. The third pillar of loss and damage was incorporated for the first time.

COP 20:

  • In COP in Lima in 2014, countries submitted their own climate ambitions in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

COP 21: The Pathbreaker

  • In 2015, the Paris agreement was finally adopted and the INDCs were annexed to it.
  • It was agreed that the Paris agreement would start from 2021.
  • 2015 was known as a year of multilateral agreements because, in addition to the Paris agreement, sustainable development goals and Sendai Framework was also adopted.
  • 2015, therefore, came out to be a successful year.

Being a very important conference with respect to climate change, let us look at the topic in short.

  • The key vision of Paris Agreement is to keep global temperatures “well below” 2.0C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times and “endeavour to limit” them even more, to 1.5C.
  • Paris Accord talks about limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.
  • It also mentions the need to review each country’s contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge.
  • Rich countries should help poorer nations by providing “climate finance” to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.
  • The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom up’ structure in contrast to most international environmental law treaties which are ‘top down.
  • The agreement is binding in some elements like reporting requirements, while leaving other aspects of the deal such as the setting of emissions targets for any individual country as non-binding.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC)

  • The national pledges by countries to cut emissions are voluntary.
  • The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead.
  • This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts.
  • In 2018, Parties will take stock of the collective efforts in relation to progress towards the goal set in the Paris Agreement.
  • There will also be a global stock take every 5 years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.

India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC)

  • India’s INDC include a reduction in the emissions intensity of its GDP by 33 to 35 per cent by 2030 from 2005 level.
  • India has also pledged to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.
  • India will anchor a global solar alliance, INSPA (International Agency for Solar Policy & Application), of all countries located in between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn.

COP22 :

  • To move forward on writing the rule book of the Paris Agreement.
  • Launched the Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action.

COP23:

  • Countries continued to negotiate the finer details of how the agreement will work from 2020 onwards.
  • First set of negotiations since the US, under the presidency of Donald Trump, announced its intention earlier this year to withdraw from the Paris deal.
  • It was the first COP to be hosted by a small-island developing state with Fiji taking up the presidency, even though it was being held in Bonn.

COP 24:

  • It finalized a “rulebook” to operationalise the 2015 Paris Agreement.
  • The rulebook covers climate financing facilities and the actions to be taken as per Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

COP25, Madrid:

  • It was held in Madrid (Spain).
  • There were no concrete plans regarding the growing climatic urgency.

Why COP26  is important?

The agreement works on a five-year cycle of climate actions, which is part of the reason COP26 is so important to tackle climate change: it’s the first five-year meeting since Paris.

The agreement required signatories to:

  • Announce ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) – i.e., the self-determined goals to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change (required update in 2020 and every 5-years after);
  • Provide a long-term strategy to decarbonise their economies by 2050; and 
  • For ‘developed’ countries to collectively scale up their climate finance under the UNFCCC to at least a collective USD $100 billion per year by 2020.

COP26

What are the COP26 goals?

According to the UNFCCC, COP26 will work towards four goals:

(1) Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

  • Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.
  • For achieving these ambitious targets, countries will have to follow the following roadmap:
  • Accelerate the phase-out of coal
  • Curtail deforestation
  • Speed up the switch to electric vehicles
  • Encourage investment in renewables.

(2) Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

  • Countries will work together to ‘protect and restore ecosystems and build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives.’

(3) Mobilise finance

  • To deliver on first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.

(4) Work together to deliver

  • Another important task at the COP26 is to ‘finalise the Paris Rulebook’.
  • Leaders will work together to frame a list of detailed rules that will help fulfil the Paris Agreement.

Why COP26  is important?

The agreement works on a five-year cycle of climate actions, which is part of the reason COP26 is so important to tackle climate change: it’s the first five-year meeting since Paris.

The agreement required signatories to:

  • Announce ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) – i.e., the self-determined goals to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change (required update in 2020 and every 5-years after);
  • Provide a long-term strategy to decarbonise their economies by 2050; and 
  • For ‘developed’ countries to collectively scale up their climate finance under the UNFCCC to at least a collective USD $100 billion per year by 2020.

What Needs to Happen at COP26

  • COP 26 is shaping up as the most important meeting since 2015. Not only is it the first 5-year review, but it also encompasses several important issues that were deferred from COP25.
  • The meeting will “set the trajectory for future generations” and will be the “last, best chance of making progress” towards meeting the 2015 Paris Agreement goals.
  • Member states have the opportunity to re-evaluate their targets against more recent climate science. This is especially important because current targets will fall short of the Paris goals for global temperature rise.
  • Climate Action Tracker, a leading independent research organization that assesses climate policies, estimates that current pledges would only limit global heating to 30C.

What India could do to reach its targets?

  1. Update NDCs: It is time for India to update its Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. (NDCs detail the various efforts taken by each country to reduce the national emissions)
  2. Effective planning: Sector by sector plans are needed to bring about development. We need to decarbonise the electricity, transport sector and start looking at carbon per passenger mile.
  3. Energy transition: Aggressively figure out how to transition our coal sector
  4. Robust legal framework: India also needs to ramp up the legal and institutional framework of climate change.

What is next after COP26

  • COP26 may well be the most important climate meeting of our generation. Not only does it mandate a review of progress towards the 2015 Paris Agreement.
  • But it allows members to re-evaluate 2015 goals in the light of new science and generate new targets.

Conclusion

  • Asia and particularly India’s size, population, and economic might is critical to any global climate change targets. COP26 is a great opportunity for Asia to show leadership and be a positive example for other regions.
  • Asia has started to make good strides towards a cleaner future, in particular with clean energy investment.
  • However, the latest predictions show that all nations must continue to drive towards ever-decreasing emissions if we are to limit global warming to 1.50C.
  • This trend will continue to create opportunities for public and private investment in Asia’s growing renewable energy network.

What are the goals for UNFCCC COP26 and why it is so important? What India can do to reach the targets? (250 words)

Post your answers in comments below.

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