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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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