What To Expect From The COP26 Climate Summit

The COP26 climate summit is set to begin next Sunday in Glasgow. The summit has been touted as one of the most important international events for the past few years—an event where world leaders will attempt to come up with a concerted effort to reduce emissions. But there are multiple factors working against the summit’s success.

As many as 25,000 delegates are expected to attend the summit that will last for two weeks as world leaders try to agree on a range of issues covering what needs to be done to bring emissions under control and how we are going to pay for it. The principal aim of the meeting is to tailor a mechanism for implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement with a view to containing global temperature rises to an average of 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times.

Climate change has been identified by a number of international agencies, multinational businesses, and environmental organizations as the biggest threat to humankind at the moment, so urgent action is needed. The point of COP26 is to define the steps of this action and how it will be taken. However, it may well fall short of expectations.

Just days before the summit begins, the BBC uncovered documents that showed some nations have lobbied for changes in the latest report of the International Panel on Climate Change that made some alarming conclusions about the state of the planet’s climate as a result of human activity and called for urgent changes to our way of life to contain the adverse changes.

According to the report, which cited leaked submissions on the report from various nations, some of these insisted on the IPCC downplaying the urgency of climate action. Nations that made such remarks included Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia, the BBC said.

One Australian official, for example, rejected the IPCC’s call for the shutdown of all coal-fired power generation capacity globally. As the world’s biggest coal exporter, Australia’s position is quite understandable. India, one of the world’s largest consumers of the fossil fuel, is also against the elimination of coal generation capacity, too, by the way. So is China, although it has not stated it explicitly but rather through action: last year alone, China started the construction of more coal-fired power plants than the rest of the world retired.

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China is a good example of why, for all the good intentions and strong ambition, COP26 may fail to deliver. The country’s government has repeatedly said it is committed to a lower-emission future, even announcing a 2060 deadline to become a net-zero economy. Yet recently, Beijing has changed its tune amid the energy crunch that had it ordering utilities to do whatever it takes to secure energy for the winter.

Yesterday, the Chinese cabinet announced measures aimed at tacking emissions and achieving net-zero status by 2060 but added a significant stipulation: that the government “manage the relationship between pollution reduction and carbon reduction and energy security, industrial supply chain security, food security and normal life of the people,” as quoted by Reuters.

In this context, it is probably significant that China’s President, Xi Jinping, will not be attending the COP26 summit, as reported earlier this month. This may yet change, but the announcement certainly made a splash. Then Moscow said President Vladimir Putin won’t be attending the Glasgow event, either.

Another big polluter, India, has demands about the distribution of energy transition financing, arguing that the wealthy developed countries—themselves not insignificant polluters—must help poorer developing nations such as India on their way to net-zero. The wealthy countries themselves are not so eager to fund the transition of other nations, which sets the scene for a challenging two weeks in Glasgow.

Even the most passionate proponents of the energy transition seem to have tempered their expectations, according to a Times magazine report. The report cited U.S. climate envoy John Kerry as saying “there will be a gap” between the commitments attendees are expected to make at the summit and actual commitments necessary to make the 1.5-degree scenario happen.

Even British PM Boris Johnson who immortalized himself earlier this month by telling the UN General Assembly that “it’s easy to be green” now says the talks will be “extremely tough”, after last month estimating the chance of wealthy countries fulfilling their climate aid promises at “six in 10”.

This discrepancy between what the UN believes needs to be done to rein in climate change and what countries are prepared to do is, by all means, the biggest challenge that COP26 attendees would need to tackle. Yet another problem has also emerged recently: not all countries will be represented at the summit because of the high costs. According to Time, critics of the event have noted that many developing countries and non-profits simply cannot afford the cost of attending the summit, which apparently involves building and manning pavilions like an expo.

That the Paris Agreement sets ambitious targets has been clear for a long time. Yet with every new report on climate change, these targets sound increasingly urgent and vital. Hitting them, however, will be far from easy as it would require a lot of dramatic adjustments to the global economy. It is because of the nature of these adjustments and the fact that most countries’ national interests are at odds with these adjustments that COP26 may fail to live up to the great expectations placed on it.

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