Commentary: COP26 to be crucial for international climate policy

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), scheduled to take place from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in Glasgow, supported by UK and Italy, is not like any previous COP. It seems to be crucial for international climate policy, attributable to several reasons. For the first time since the inaugural Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Berlin during March-April 1995, there was no COP last year in the midst of health emergencies across the globe led by Covid-19. Different important issues that were supposed to be discussed and/or solved at the COP26 are still pending. There is the likelihood of global mean temperature rise by 2.7° C compared to the pre-industrial levels by the end of this century due to growing GHG emission trajectory, which is too far from what is required to be 1.5° C or even 2° C compatible under the Paris Agreement. The recently published sixth assessment (part 1) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found unequivocal linkages of human induced activities to the climate change over the past decades. Notably, the frequency and scale of the climate change induced events have reached to the alarming proportions. And surprisingly enough, the developed countries too are finding it difficult to cope with the events that are fueled by climate change. The dip in GHG emission led by Covid-19 has eventually seen a sharp increase imputed to the rebound of energy consumption and increased activities. Therefore, addressing the global mean temperature rise would necessitate that we quickly shift towards carbon neutral practices as opposed to our inclination towards emission-intensive activities. As COP26 would provide the biggest platform and bring policymakers, experts, activists, and others from almost all the countries, COP26 has the potential to create the necessary traction for international climate policy.   

So, what do people expect from the COP26? The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are the fundamental tenet in achieving the climate goals under the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the Paris Agreement has provided the countries with the scope to ratchet up their climate ambitions through submitting their revised NDCs. To that end, the revised NDCs were due before the COP26 in 2020. As COP26 was postponed, many countries did not submit their revised NDCs in 2020. As of now, 116 countries, including EU27, have submitted their revised NDCs. Nevertheless, the analysis shows that 12% emission reduction would be possible by 2030 if the revised NDCs are considered. Hence, COP26 shall be the platform to raise the point as to what extent all the countries need to ramp up their efforts to attain 45 to 50% emission reduction by 2030 and achieve the net zero emission by 2050. The COP26 should allow the negotiation to take place to reach concrete agreement on how to bridge the gap that currently persists.

When we talk about the developing and least developed countries, it is undeniable that they need financial support to gear up their climate actions, both adaptation and mitigation. While the developed countries altogether committed to channel US$ 100 billion per annum to the developing and least developed countries more than a decade ago in COP15, the target is still to be fulfilled.  This should be resolved at COP26. In addition, it appears in different discussions that more international climate finance is allocated to mitigation projects than adaptation projects. However, taking into account the increasing climate change induced adversaries and growing vulnerabilities of the poor countries, both mitigation and adaptation shall have the same priority (50/50 split). Fruitful decision is also required on the issue of loss and damage.

Five years have gone by since the historic Paris Agreement was ratified in 2016 and yet, the Article VI of the Paris Agreement, which provides the basis for the carbon market, has not been finalized. COP25 in Madrid could not garner agreement on the Article 6 and the topic was finally kept aside for COP26, which has already been delayed by a year. As we observe that our present efforts on climate change mitigation are not enough and the time is only running out for us to cut down GHG emission at a rapid pace, we must utilize the market-based instruments for greater volume of emission reduction. Therefore, the time is now ripe to finalize the Article 6.

While as much as we hope that COP26 will deliver on the issues that are at stake, we must realize that the success of the COP26 significantly hinges on the willingness of the most developed countries to not only ratchet up their mitigation ambition but also enhance their supports to the countries, which are the historically less energy-intensive and less-polluting. The return of the US to the Paris Agreement earlier this year as well as the Leaders Summit organized by the US on the occasion of the Earth Day 2021 has been praised by many. Yet, the more important thing is that US demonstrates its leadership during this conference. It is necessary that the UK and Italy play significant roles to support the countries to reach agreements on different key issues within this conference while ensuring that the voices of the vulnerable countries don’t fall on deaf ears. Moreover, the EU also needs to deliver as what it did in reaching the Paris Agreement. As nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, these negotiations would not be simple. All countries should come out of their shell and reach consensus on the issues that are at stake on the climate front.

Many have already opined that COP26 is the last best opportunity for us to address the climate change. While it remains to be seen as to whether COP26 is the last best opportunity, COP26 could surely be pivotal for international climate policy for the years to come.

Guest author: Shafiqul Alam

Contributions by external authors do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors.

  • Shafiqul Alam Shafiqul Alam

Shafiqul Alam was the International Climate Protection Fellow at the Ecologic Institute, Berlin, during January 2018 to April 2019, under the scholarship of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. He is currently a Senior Advisor of Sustainable Energy at GIZ Bangladesh.


Picture: private

October 2021