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What is COP26 and why is it so important?

Introduction

It is the 26th iteration of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This annual meeting brings together the 197 members of the convention to take joint action against climate change. The representatives of the countries discuss issues such as climate change mitigation and financing to support developing countries in their efforts to move away from fossil fuels. This year, the conference took place from the 31st of October to the 12th of November.

History of COP26

The first UN climate talk was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. At the historic COP21 meeting, held in 2015, countries approved the Paris Agreement. This was a landmark deal under which each country agreed to submit pledges on emissions reductions for its country and adaptation measures, in a collective effort to keep global warming. 

The COP meets every year, unless the Parties decide otherwise. The COP usually meets in Bonn, the seat of the secretariat, unless a country offers to host the session. Just as the COP Presidency rotates among the five recognized UN regions — Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Europe (Eastern, Central, and Western) — there is a tendency for the venue of the COP to also shift among these groups.

The secretariat was established in 1992. Originally, the secretariat was located in Geneva. In 1995, however, the secretariat moved to Bonn, Germany. 450 staff are employed at the UN Climate Change, hailing from over 100 countries to represent the many distinct member countries. At the head of the secretariat is the Executive Secretary, a position currently held by Patricia Espinosa.

This year’s COP26

This year the meeting was held in Glasgow UK, from 31st October to 12th November. The UK will share the presidency with Italy, which hosted the last ministerial meeting before the conference.

Five years down the line, countries were scheduled to return to the forum and finalise a rulebook on how to implement the Paris Agreement. The UNFCCC secretariat pushed for this by asking all countries to update their NDCs. None of this happened in 2020 due to the Covid-19 crisis, which led the UN to postpone the meeting. Negotiations resumed this year with the same agenda: “Nations will need to reach consensus on how to measure and potentially trade their carbon-reduction achievements. They will also need to ratchet up their national pledges for a chance to keep global warming within 1.5 °C.”

Why is COP26 so important for South Asia?

South Asia is home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and to some of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world is currently well on track to reach 1.5C of warming by 2040, and South Asian economies are among the vast majority of countries that are not doing enough to improve on this. 

India has been in the spotlight recently as the world’s potential next biggest polluter in the second half of this century, if China and the US reduce their carbon emissions as they have promised. Despite its renewable targets, 80% of India’s energy needs are currently met by fossil fuels, mostly coal. 

International partners have been putting pressure on the Modi administration to set a 2050 deadline for India’s emissions to reach ‘net-zero’, meaning that India would be able to absorb all the emissions it produces. At this year’s COP meeting, Kelkar said that “we need to meet the long-overdue climate finance target of USD 100 billion per year, & we need to close years of pending negotiations on international carbon trading.” While a net-zero commitment by the mid-21st century may be unfeasible for countries in South Asia, Bangladesh and Nepal have submitted updates to their climate pledges prior to COP26, increasing their mitigation efforts in line with the principles of the Paris Agreement.

Top takeaways from COP26

The first two days of the COP26 featured over 100 high-level announcements and speeches. These helped to set the tone for the two-week long conference. Over 140 countries submitted updated 2030 climate plans, or nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

India: announced a commitment (“Panchamrit”) on climate change, which included:

  • Resolution to reach net-zero emissions by 2070, including significant near-term commitments to work toward that goal
  • Pledge to install 500 gigawatts of non-fossil fuel electricity and to generate 50% of India’s energy capacity with renewable energy sources
  • Promise to reduce India’s carbon intensity 45% by 2030 and to cut its projected carbon emissions by 1 billion tons between now and 2030. This will be achieved by steering the country towards a low-carbon development pathway and sending strong signals to every sector about what the future holds.

Brazil

  • Formalized its pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 
  • Set a new goal of reducing emissions by 50% by 2030, however the emissions impact from this goal is no stronger than what the country put forward in 2015
  • It is critical that Brazil comes back soon with a serious commitment to reduce emissions.

China

  • Released its new climate commitment just ahead of COP26, which includes a plan to peak emissions by 2030 and reach carbon neutrality before 2060. This reiterates President Xi’s announcement last December at the Climate Ambition Summit.

New Zealand

  • submitted an updated climate plan with a strengthened 2030 emissions reduction target, aiming to cut its emissions in half from 2005 levels.

Argentina

  • also nudged its 2030 emission cap downward from 359 to 349 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent in 2030.

Sources

  1. https://www.wri.org/insights/top-takeaways-un-world-leaders-summit-cop26
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-59088498
  3. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/cop26-explained/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwrJOM%20BhCZARIsAGEd4VEAqEsNHfpKPhngRsaAymC52hqhfq5vWy8gTmDzhoItPSwjmYFt%20koEaAv-BEALw_wcB
  4. https://www.thethirdpole.net/en/climate/cop26-south-asia-india-whats-at-stake/
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News

Taliban Rises to Power Again

Introduction

What are the Taliban? The Taliban is a militant terror group that ruled Afghanistan under the command of Mullah Omar (founder and the first leader of the Taliban) from 1996 – 2001 until they were toppled by the U.S. forces. In response to the 9/11 attack, the US launched “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which was aimed at all the suspects of the attack — mainly Al Qaeda and Taliban. Due to this, the Taliban was overthrown easily. The ideology followed by the Taliban is extremist. They aim to install Islamist rule all across Afghanistan. They have almost 85,000 fighters according to recent NATO estimates.

Timeline

Early1990s 

● Taliban emerged in Pashtun areas straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan 

1995 

● Captured the province of ‘Herat’ 

27 SEP 1996 

● Taliban captured the Afghan capital, Kabul, and the regime of President Burhanuddin Rabbani was overthrown 

● Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was established by Mullah Omar 

1998 

● 90 percent of Afghanistan was captured 

● They enforced their own Islamic or Sharia Law once they were in power 

2001 

● Al-Qaeda, led by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, carries out the largest terror attack ever conducted on US soil (9/11) 

● A US-led coalition bombs Taliban and al-Qaeda facilities in Afghanistan. Targets include Kabul, Kandahar and Jalalabad. 

(7th of October) 

● Fall of Kabul; the Northern Alliance, a group of anti-Taliban rebels backed by coalition forces, enters Kabul as the Taliban fled the city. (13th of November) 

2004 

● New constitution, 26th of January; the constitution paves the way for presidential elections in October 2004.

● Hamid Karzai, the leader of the Popalzai Durrani tribe, becomes the first president under the new constitution. He serves two five-year terms as president. 

2006 

● UK troops deployed to Helmand, May 2006 

2009 

● 17th of February 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama approves a major increase in the number of troops sent to Afghanistan. 

2011 

● Osama bin Laden killed, 2nd of May 2011 

2013 

● Death of Mullah Omar, 23rd of April 2013 

2014 

● NATO ends combat operations, 28th of December 2014 

2015 

● Taliban resurgence 

2020 

● The US and the Taliban sign an “agreement for bringing peace” to Afghanistan, in Doha, Qatar on the 29th of February. The US and Nato allies agree to withdraw all troops within 14 months if the militants uphold the deal.

2021 ● On the 16th of August, the Taliban returned to power, In just over a month, the Taliban swept across Afghanistan, taking control of towns and cities all over the country, including Kabul. Afghan security forces collapsed in the face of the Taliban advance.

What is happening in Afghanistan now?

On April 14, US President Joe Biden announced that the US forces would withdraw by September 11th, 2021. In May 2021, foreign forces started to withdraw from the country and the Taliban stepped up to defeat the Western-backed government. The Taliban captured 26 provincial capitals in just 10 days, while Kabul fell in 1 day and the Taliban were thus able to take control over Afghanistan again. On August 15th, Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, who was backed by the U.S., resigned and fled to Oman.

On August 14th, Joe Biden made a statement about the Afghanistan crisis and what role the U.S. will play : 

“Over the past days, I have been in close contact with my national security team to give them directions on how to protect our interests and values as we end our military mission in Afghanistan. 

First, based on the recommendations, I have authorized the deployment of approximately 5,000 U.S. troops and an orderly and safe evacuation of Afghans who helped our troops during our mission and those at special risk from the Taliban advance. 

Second, I have ordered our Armed Forces and our Intelligence Community to ensure that we will maintain the capability and the vigilance to address future terrorist threats from Afghanistan. 

Third, I have directed the Secretary of State to support President Ghani and other Afghan leaders as they seek to prevent further bloodshed and pursue a political settlement.

Fourth, we have conveyed to the Taliban representatives in Doha that any action on their part on the ground in Afghanistan, that puts U.S. personnel or our mission at risk there, will be met with a swift and strong U.S. military response. Fifth, I have placed Ambassador Tracey Jacobson in charge of a whole-of-government effort to process, transport, and relocate Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghan allies. Our hearts go out to the brave Afghan men and women who are now at risk. We are working to evacuate thousands of those who helped our cause and their families.”

What does the Taliban’s return mean for the citizens of Afghanistan?

Questions are being asked about how the group will govern the country, and what their rule means for women, human rights, and political freedom in Afghanistan. Its leadership says it wants peace and an inclusive government that is compatible with Islamic law or the Sharia Law, but many Afghans are skeptical about this and thousands have already fled the country, fearing a return to a brutal and repressive regime.

A brief about the Sharia law: 

Sharia is Islam’s legal system. It is the set of laws that govern the daily lives of Muslim people and it is based on a combination of the Quran and the teachings from the prophet Muhammad. 

Taliban officials have repeatedly tried to assure Afghan citizens, particularly women, that this time the rule will be different. Earlier this week, the Taliban urged women to join its government. Some representatives have also said that women will be allowed to work and study. When they were last in power, the Taliban had made full burqa compulsory but this time they said that women will not be required to wear a full Burqa, and can opt for just the hijab (headscarf). Well, what is the actual situation on the ground? Despite their assurances, parts of the country are seeing a return to the repressive old order, women in some provinces are not allowed to leave their home without a male relative escorting them and were also denied access to universities in some places, girls have been banned from returning to schools and there have been reports of several forced marriages. Smartphones and television have been banned, young men are being forced to join their ranks. Reporters and peace activists who raised their voices against the Taliban face risk to their lives. In the current situation in Afghanistan, chaos has been created everywhere, Airports and ATMs were mobbed with thousands of people trying to escape the country. According to reports, 5 civilians have been shot at the terminal, 3 people were also seen holding on to the wheel of a US plane flying out of Kabul.

How are other countries and the UN reacting?

United Nations: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the Taliban to exercise utmost restraint to protect lives 

China: Released a statement that it is looking to deepen “ friendly and cooperative” relations with Afghanistan.

Pakistan: Imran Khan, made a statement which was “ The Afghans broke shackles of slavery” 

Germany: Released a statement that U.S, troops withdrawal was the “biggest NATO Debacle”.

India: Union minister of state for External Affairs, Meenakshi Lekhi, said that India wants peace all over the world as India continues evacuation exercises to rescue Indians currently in Afghanistan.

Why was the Taliban’s renewed rule over Afghanistan inevitable?

Over the past 20 years, the U.S. has poured trillions of dollars into Afghanistan to oust the Taliban, an effort that was clearly unsuccessful. But a look at the country’s strategic geographic location and the politics of the region tells us that this outcome was inevitable. Afghanistan is strategically located between central and south Asia – a region rich in oil and natural gas. It has long faced constant meddling from the Soviet Union/Russia, the UK, the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan.

Sources

  1. https://scroll.in/article/1002900/talibans-victory-in-afghanistan-was-inevitable-even-after-two-decades-of-american-intervention
  2. https://www.aljazeera.com/program/inside-story/2021/8/17/what-does-the-talibans-return-to-power-mean-for-afghanistan
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-11451718
  4. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-27307249
  5. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/08/14/statement-by-president-joe-biden-on-afghanistan/