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COP26: Tackling the Climate Emergency

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

What is COP26?

After a year’s postponement due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference, widely known as COP26, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 - November 12. During these days, representatives and world leaders from across 197 nations will gather together to discuss climate action strategies in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and quell the detrimental effects of climate change.

How did COP26 get its name?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and includes the participation of countries who signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). This treaty, effective in 1994, comprises 165 countries working towards the objective of achieving stabilization of global greenhouse gas concentrations. This year will be the 26th annual summit, thus providing the name, COP26.

What goes on at COP meetings?

Ahead of each meeting, the parties decide on the major issues that will be subject to discussion. Each day of the conference, five to six meetings run simultaneously to discuss the assigned topics. The biggest and most important meetings are attended by a larger spectrum of guests including representatives of businesses, citizens, government officials, and non-profit organizations, while smaller meetings are hosted exclusively for country delegates. Some of these meeting sessions are broadcast on the web and on television for the world to tune in, while others are not disclosed to the public.

Some aspects of COP can also be compared to a trade show, where companies and other organizations present new technologies and solutions for emission reduction and climate change adaption.

Activity at COP is divided into two zones: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is for those registered with the UN body. Members of the Blue Zone are usually part of a national delegation, a UN employee, or a member of any other business or organization. The Green Zone, on the other hand, is for the general public. In the Green Zone, a wider range of events including workshops, art exhibitions, musical performances, and technology demonstrations, are available.

Goals of COP26?

  • Secure global net-zero by mid-century.

    • 'Net zero' means that emissions are balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

  • Limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

    • 2 degrees of global warming would result in widespread and devastating impacts on nature and the human population. A third of the world’s population would be regularly exposed to severe heat, leading to health problems and increased heat-related deaths. Almost all warm-water coral reefs would be destroyed, and the Arctic sea ice would melt almost entirely, with devastating impacts on the wildlife and the ecosystems they support. Irreversible loss of ice sheets could be triggered, leading to several meters of sea-level rise over centuries to come.

    • Thus, 1.5°C is the goal. The impacts would be less severe. There would be lower risks of food and water shortages, economic depression, and species extinction. There would also be decreased threat to human health from air pollution, disease, malnutrition, and exposure to extreme heat.

  • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.

    • Further planning is necessary to finance the development of early warning systems, habitat preservation, flood defenses, and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid further loss from the after-effects of climate change.

  • Mobilize finance

    • Public finance for the development of infrastructure needed to transition to a greener and more climate-resilient economy

    • Private finance to fund technology and innovation, and to help turn the billions of public money into trillions of total climate investment

    • Developing countries are in particular need of support. Developed countries must deliver on their promise to raise at least $100 billion per year in climate finance to support developing countries.

    • Transparency is crucial among companies regarding the acknowledgment of risks and opportunities posed by climate change and the shift to a net-zero economy. Central banks and regulators must secure stable financial systems that can withstand the impacts of climate change and support the transition to net-zero.

  • And finally, working together to deliver.

Why is COP26 especially important?

Over the past decades, and especially recently, as many of you have observed, the ubiquitous impacts of climate change have grown increasingly severe. Our planet faces intensifying storms and hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and air pollution, among many other disasters. And millions of people face damaged health, loss of their families, their homes, and their livelihoods. It is now more critical than ever for nations across the world to unify and take action to push back against the destruction we and our past generations have become complicit in. COP26 is an opportunity for real, urgent action to occur and encourages investment and support from crucial organizations that make change possible.

Progress from COP

  • Around 70% of the world’s economy is now committed to reaching net-zero emissions, up from 30% when the UK took over as incoming COP Presidency.

  • More than 80 countries have formally updated their NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions), and all G7 countries have announced new NDC targets that put them on the path to net-zero emissions by 2050.

  • Solar and wind are now cheaper than new coal and gas power plants in two-thirds of countries of the world.

What is the Paris Agreement and why is it important to COP26?

The Paris Agreement is an international treaty on climate change that was adopted by nearly 200 parties at COP21 in Paris, 2015. It was an important precedent where, for the first time ever, almost every country around the world entered into a legally binding commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Together, the countries that signed this treaty agreed to work to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement also established goals to develop adaptations to the impacts of climate change while simultaneously maintaining stable financing.

COP26 hopes to bring nations together to accelerate action towards the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement.

Unfortunately, the targets announced in COP21 would result in warming well above 3 degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. The current trend would result in the continued rise of temperatures, bringing even more catastrophic natural events. Thus, COP26 calls for urgent action as decisions need to be made to reconsider various climate action plans.

At SEA, we encourage you to stay updated on news about the upcoming COP26. You, the leaders and members of SEA, and millions of others around the world will be tuning in to COP26 as we continue the rally for a greener and safer future for our planet.

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