The United Arab Emirates became the first Gulf country to announce a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. The UAE prime minister has said the government plans to invest $165 billion in clean energy by 2050.
What have other essential issues been discussed at climate negotiations for 25 years in a row? Let’s get know thanks to Ecoaction NGO analysis.
“We have had 195 countries, 24 years of international climate negotiations, reports from thousands of scientists, youth strikes around the world, and a whole bunch of greenhouse gas emissions that need to be eliminated. The only thing that has caused us concern is keeping global warming at 1.5C. Nothing in the world is more complex, confusing, and important than tackling climate change. But we knew that sooner or later, we would take active action.”
Climate talks, of course, are not at all like the plot of the movie “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” But it can be as difficult for an unprepared viewer to understand them as it is for the famous film. Such talks will begin soon. So in the second article of our series on climate policy, we tell what the COP is, what to expect from it, and all the most important news from this year’s talks right from the scene.
What’s happening at COP
Thus, the countries signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which came into force in 1994. Since 1995 the convention’s signatories (or parties) began to meet annually at the Conference of the Parties (COP). At these meetings, they discuss the rules of working together, make statements, sign additional agreements. In general, the COP is the main governing body that decides how the world will move in the fight against and adaptation to climate change. The appearance of the Paris Agreement marked the 21st COP. Subsequent conferences were devoted to discussing the rules of its implementation. And starting next year, countries will report to them and check the work results following these rules.
To simplify the negotiation process, the countries form groups and take common positions on various issues. And then, the representatives of these groups take part in the voting on behalf of the whole group. For example, the G77 and China include (oddly enough) 135 developing countries. However, in different negotiation processes, the members of this group may unite into smaller groups united by common interests.
Delegations of country representatives meet for two weeks, discuss their positions first in groups and then between group representatives, and make decisions by consensus. Towards the end of the conference, representatives of states, Ministers, or even Presidents come and make statements. At the same time, civil society representatives, who act as observers, and academics organize thematic events that do not affect the course of the negotiations but contribute to the development of the international exchange of experience. We will tell you about the most interesting of this year’s events that we will have time to attend.
How to count the forest and whether to believe in science
As the Paris Agreement contains only general provisions, the COP has the task of prescribing all the details to work fully. For example, countries have long debated how to consider reforestation measures. Since the NVV aims to reduce its country’s emissions by a certain percentage by a specific year, it is necessary to calculate how many emissions it has now and, secondly – how many emissions it reduces by implementing its policy. In the case of reforestation and other natural areas, it is difficult to do the latter: it is not known how many trees will grow, how many greenhouse gases they will absorb, in addition, felled or felled trees return CO2 to the atmosphere. All calculations are entirely conditional and uncertain, but reforestation activities also help achieve the climate goal, so it is necessary to calculate it somehow, which has caused heated controversy in the countries.
And at the last COP in Katowice, the issue of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was raised. He emphasizes the need to keep warming at 1.5° C until the end of the century. After all, if the global temperature rises by 2° C, 37% of the world’s population will suffer from extreme heat at least once every five years, while at 1.5° C – only 14%. In the current state of affairs, the temperature will rise by more than 3° C, and things will worsen. To prevent such consequences, greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by almost half by 2030 (compared to 2010 levels) and reach zero by 2050. So countries began to argue over whether to consider the findings of thousands of scientists from around the world in their work. And while poor island nations, the first to suffer, made painful speeches, large fossil fuel-dependent countries hesitated. In the end, they agreed to “invite” countries to use the report, that is, no clear commitment.
Countries need to strengthen their climate ambitions
What happened on the eve of COP26: scientists have confirmed the achievement of the goal of 1.5° C.
In August 2021, the IPCC published the long-awaited report “Climate Change 2021: A Physical Science Framework” and delivered a firm verdict on humanity on climate change: guilty. The latest research from scientists worldwide confirms that heatwaves and other extreme weather events are related to human activities, especially to the burning of fossil fuels. In 20 years, the world may become 1.5° C warmer than pre-industrial levels.
But it is still possible to keep the rise in average global temperature at a relatively acceptable level. Limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C can only happen if large-scale greenhouse gas emissions are reduced immediately. In its annual review report, the International Energy Agency concluded that there is no place for new fossil fuel projects for any country in the scenario of achieving the 1.5 ° C target. Instead, the development of renewable energy, energy-efficient production and consumption, and the prevention of methane leaks are cost-effective measures that must be implemented immediately.
A wave of promises of carbon neutrality
Most countries in the world and more than 800 companies have or are considering the goal of achieving zero emissions. The world’s economic giants – the United States, Japan, the European Union, and South Korea – have already announced their intention to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. China, Ukraine, and Russia have set such a goal, but for an even more distant year, 2060.
According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, if the G20 countries commit to climate neutrality by the middle of the century and bring their nationally determined contributions in line with the 1.5° C trajectory, the increase in average global temperature by the end of the century can be limited to 1.7° C. Therefore the purpose of the Paris Agreement will be achievable.
Given many large number of statements on carbon or climate neutrality, it can be wrongly concluded that the fulfillment of these promises will be sufficient to implement the Paris Agreement. International experts and scientists warn of a possible trap we may fall into if we think so: “… Theoretically [the idea of carbon neutrality] is a good idea. But unfortunately, in practice, it only helps to maintain the belief that technology will save us and reduce the sense of urgency and understanding that we need to reduce emissions now.
Indeed, carbon neutrality does not mean reducing emissions to zero. We are talking about “net-zero emissions,” i.e., any greenhouse gas emissions from human activities should be balanced by the same amount of these gases extracted from the atmosphere. Therefore, businesses and governments can set a similar goal, hoping for the widespread use of carbon capture and storage technologies in the future. This approach carries several risks, including postponing climate action until it is too late.
The historical responsibility for climate change is better understood.
When it comes to the responsibility of countries for greenhouse gas emissions, experts pay attention not only to today’s emissions but also to historical ones. History matters because the 1.1° C warming we are witnessing is closely linked to the total amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted since the beginning of the industrial revolution. In all, since 1850, humanity has emitted about 2,500 billion tons of CO2. To keep the global average temperature rising at 1.5° C, we have no more than 500 billion tons of so-called “carbon budget” left.
Carbon Brief analyzed which countries’ CO2 emissions were historically highest. In addition to CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production, emissions from land-use change and deforestation were also included in the analysis for the first time. In the ranking of countries with the most significant cumulative emissions for 1850-2021, the top six countries (USA, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, and Germany) are jointly responsible for more than half of all historical emissions.
Essential statements of the countries on the eve of negotiations
The USA. On the first day of Joe Biden’s presidency, the country renewed its signature under the Paris Agreement, previously revoked by Donald Trump. Therefore, the United States, as an official party, will take an active part in the negotiations in Glasgow. In September 2021, Joe Biden also announced the country’s readiness to double climate funding and allocate $ 11.4 billion annually by 2024.
China. In September 2021, during the UN General Assembly, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced that the country would no longer build coal-fired power plants abroad. After that, the Bank of China confirmed the suspension of financing of new coal projects abroad since the last quarter of 2021. Zg
According to the International Energy Agency, such a decision by China will help prevent emissions of 20 billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2050.
The European Union and the United States have announced a joint initiative to reduce global methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. However, according to the report mentioned above of the International Energy Agency, it is necessary to reduce methane emissions by 75% by 2030 to allow the corresponding scenario of 1.5° C. Dozens of other countries have already joined the initiative, including nine of the 20 countries that are the biggest polluters in terms of methane emissions.
Turkey became the last country in the G20 to ratify the Paris Agreement. The Turkish government has also approved a goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2053. Even though under the UNFCCC, Turkey has the status of a developed country, Turkey has stated that it will implement the Paris Agreement exclusively in the position of a developing country.
The European Union has unveiled the Fit for 55 legislative package, the main goal of which is to reduce average carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and achieve the intermediate goals of the Green Course strategy to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
India and South Africa have promised to renew their climate target before talks in Glasgow. The Government of South Africa has approved a new climate target for 2030, which is comparable to keeping warming at 1.5° C.
Denmark and Costa Rica have announced the creation of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA). They invite all countries seeking to set a date for the complete cessation of oil and gas production to join the Alliance.
Coal, money, cars, and trees: what else to expect from COP26
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, summed up the agenda of this year’s Conference of the Parties as follows: “coal, money, cars, and trees.” He called on developed countries to take responsibility for their actions and reach agreements in these four priority areas.
Coal. Britain seeks to make COP26 a summit that will send coal into history. In May 2021, the G7 countries agreed to suspend new direct state support for coal energy by the end of this year but have not yet set a date for a complete cessation of coal burning. As a co-organizer of this year’s climate talks, Italy is trying to get a similar promise from the G20 countries, despite resistance from China, Russia, and India. Britain, the country that ignited the global industrial revolution with nothing but coal, will stop burning this fossil fuel to produce electricity as early as October 1, 2024.
Money. We talk about the mobilization by developed countries of the already mentioned $100 billion annually to combat climate change, adapt to it, and cover losses and losses from the effects of climate change. Canada and Germany are preparing a plan to fill the climate finance gap. In addition, negotiations are expected in Glasgow to begin negotiations on the amount of annual climate funding available from 2025.
Cars. The UK hopes to speed up the transition to electric cars and proposes stopping the sale of fossil fuel cars worldwide from 2040. It created the Zero Emission Vehicle Transition Council, which brought together ministers and representatives of the automotive industry from different countries. Road transport is responsible for 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and emissions from this sector are growing. The Council mentioned above plans to “work together to overcome strategic, political and technical barriers, accelerate and scale up the production of zero-emission cars.”
Trees. Another goal of this year’s talks is to stop deforestation. The UK, together with the United States and Norway, has formed the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest Finance (LEAF Coalition), which aims to mobilize $1 billion in public and private funds in 2021 to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, primarily tropical, to work on “clear, fair and environmentally sound rules that are necessary for the proper functioning of carbon markets.”
In the run-up to the climate talks, many NGOs came up with common positions, demands, and expectations for the results of COP26. We summarize several of them: from the Alliance ACT2025 (Allied for Climate Transformation By 2025) and from the international network CAN International (Climate Action Network).
Ambitious climatic goals and actions
“In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (from Article 4 of the Paris Agreement)
Research confirms that to meet the Paris Agreement target of 1.5° C, global greenhouse gas emissions must be halved by 2030 compared to 2010. Countries have the tools to achieve this goal. The COP26 negotiations were postponed for one year, giving the countries extra time to update their climate goals. But as of the end of July 2021, only 59% of the parties had submitted their updated nationally determined contributions to the UNFCCC Secretariat.
NGOs CAN and ACT2025 call on the parties, especially the G20 countries, to submit updated or new nationally defined contributions before the start of negotiations. Countries with insufficiently ambitious contributions can use this time to review and improve their goals and policies. It is essential that during COP26, all countries that contribute to the 1.5° C target undertake to check it in advance and bring it in line with the purpose of the Paris Agreement. Governments should also urgently accelerate the implementation of already agreed climate plans and policies. This process should be inclusive and transparent.
CAN notes that economic recovery plans after a coronavirus pandemic are an important tool for transformational change. The parties need to review their plans for the implementation of socially just, equal and sustainable transformation of humanity. At the same time, countries should make full use of the potential of nature-oriented solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Adequacy of climate finance
“Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention. Other Parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily.” (from Article 9 of the Paris Agreement)
CAN calls for urgent action to meet the commitment of developed countries to allocate $ 100 billion this year, before negotiations begin. The United States and other countries need to increase funding to ensure their fair share in the shared basket. Canada, Germany and other countries must prescribe in terms of financial commitments how annual commitments will be met and how developed countries will compensate for funds they have not provided in previous periods.
CAN and ACT2025 support an approach in which developed countries would commit to multi-year commitments of at least $ 500 billion over the period 2020-2024, as proposed by a group of 20 vulnerable countries in their communiqué.
Adaptation to climate change
“Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions, and that it is a key component of and makes a contribution to the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems, taking into account the urgent and immediate needs of those developing country Parties that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.” (from Article 7 of the Paris Agreement).
The United Nations estimates that developing countries need $70 billion a year to take appropriate action to adapt to the effects of climate change, and by the end of this decade that figure could more than quadruple to $300 billion a year. Lack of this funding will mean a huge loss of lives and livelihoods in vulnerable countries. Therefore, they need access to adequate and predictable funding.
Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands have already announced that at least 50 percent of their international climate funding will be directed to adaptation measures in poor countries. Therefore, adequate funding must be mobilized globally to build sustainable infrastructure and other adaptation measures in countries vulnerable to climate change. ACT2025 calls on the parties to provide predictable funding for adaptation measures through more specific commitments by developed countries and planned replenishment of the Adaptation Fund.
In addition to funding, NGOs also expect a transparent process and guidelines for setting a Global Goal for Adapting to Climate Change. This goal should be based on an understanding of resilience, local capacity, and the local nature of adaptation. ACT2025 invites countries to contact the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to work on a Global Goal to adapt and develop guidelines needed to monitor progress in this area.
Losses and losses from climate change
“Parties recognize the importance of averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events, and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage.” (Article 8 of the Paris Agreement)
Lack of ambitious climate action can have catastrophic consequences for countries, communities, and individuals worldwide. Even if the world can achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement and limit global temperature rises to 1.5° C, the risks to human health, food security, water supply, and economic well-being will increase.
Every inhabited region of the planet is already suffering from extreme climate change. The 2017 hurricane season caused losses of $ 300 billion. In the same year, Hurricane Irma destroyed 95% of all structures in the Caribbean island of Barbuda. In 2021, floods in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The parties to this year’s negotiations must take adequate and needs-based action on loss and damage. These actions should support the most vulnerable people and communities in their fight against the inevitable effects of climate change. CAN organizations call for a clear governance structure, adequate funding, coordination at the international level, and additional technical support for those who need it most. ACT2025 emphasizes that COP26 should send clear signals that developed countries and major polluters are willing to support and stand in solidarity with countries vulnerable to climate change.
You may read the first part of the COP26 review here.