One of the most anticipated meetings of the year is approaching: the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. It is the first meeting - after the announcement of the COVID-19 global health emergency - that will bring together the 197 nations that make up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It will bring together heads of state, business leaders, researchers, academics, specialists, and activists to address climate change.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) will be held from October 31 to November 12, in the Scottish city of Glasgow, United Kingdom. It is organized together with Italy, a country that has already hosted previous events such as PreCOP26 and Youth4Climate in Milan. This year marks the 26th edition since the first one was held in Berlin, Germany, back in 1995. Since then, nations have met annually to discuss, reflect, learn about progress and propose actions to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, reduce greenhouse gases and work together to address the impacts of climate change. However, each year the objectives become more incisive as the negative impacts of climate change accelerate and affect the most disadvantaged countries.
Four objectives have been set for this summit:
Ensure zero carbon emissions by mid-century and keep temperatures at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Adapt to protect natural habitats and communities most affected by climate change.
Financial mobilization: developed countries should secure at least $100 billion in climate finance.
Work jointly and collaboratively to achieve the goals.
These targets respond to the critical state of the planet: climate change is widespread, has intensified, and accelerated with human activity. The changes are unprecedented and the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in their report presented in August, already urged the reduction of CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions (such as methane) to limit these changes and lessen the negative impact. The report stated that there is physical evidence of the effect of increased global warming and associated weather and climate phenomena. It also emphasized that human actions and political decisions play a fundamental role in changing the course of the climate.
The Paris Agreement, an important antecedent
These summits are relevant because they have resulted in treaties such as the Paris Agreement (2015), an important precedent that is usually a reference when talking about the subject: it is a non-binding treaty, signed in France, which aims to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (1.5 degrees is the proposed limit), concerning the temperature of the pre-industrial era, and to reduce CO2 emissions.
In this agreement, countries committed to present their national action plans to quantify the reduction of their emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions or 'NDCs', which are updated every 5 years. However, a few days before the Summit begins, some countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, and India have not updated their plans. More than 80 countries have formally updated their NDC targets. The report also revealed that six G20 nations failed to meet their old targets: the United States, Australia, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and South Korea.
"New and updated Nationally Determined Contributions only avoid 7.5% of projected emissions by 2030, yet a 55% reduction is needed to meet the Paris Agreement's 1.5°C targets," details the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Emissions Gap 2021 report.
Among the main CO2 emitters, the United States, India, and the European Union stand out. They made commitments to reduce emissions by 2030; in the case of China, also a major emitter, it committed to reducing them to zero by 2060, although it is not a signatory to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is an important precedent, although the climate commitments are no longer sufficient and the possibilities of achieving the objectives are far off: UNEP considers that the objectives are not ambitious enough and set the world on a path whose temperature will increase by at least 2.7°C this century.
What happened at COP25 in Madrid?
Before the pandemic, in 2019, COP25 Chile-Madrid was held, although it was an event with multiple obstacles. The outcome of that summit was not what was expected: the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres, noted his disappointment with the results of COP25 and said that "the international community missed an important opportunity to show greater ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance to address the climate crisis." At the time, the summit did not turn out as expected as one of the issues on which no agreement was reached was on carbon markets.
What is expected in Glasgow?
At this COP26 it is expected that countries will join the objectives set to reduce greenhouse gases by 2030 and reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, according to Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister, the main thing is to encourage all countries "not to deviate from the major political decisions which are: to end coal energy, to achieve a gradual elimination of polluting vehicles, to make agriculture more sustainable, to reduce deforestation and to support disadvantaged countries with financing". The Prime Minister said that in the case of the United Kingdom, "in the last 30 years, different administrations of the British government have grown our economy by 78% while cutting emissions by 44%, which shows that green growth is a reality". However, the outlook for other regions such as Latin America is different, since in the first instance it is not negotiating before COP26 as a regional block, as stated by María Laura Rojas, executive director of Transforma-Colombia.
In the case of Latin America and the Caribbean region, the negative impacts of global warming have been evidenced by the deforestation of forests, increased droughts, floods affecting urban areas, changes in agricultural cycles that affect crops, etc. Only up to 2020, the Amazon region experienced a severe drought that had not occurred for at least 50 years, in addition to an increase in forest fires. Giannina Santiago, the expert in negotiations and leader of the Support Unit of the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), pointed out that the region is not only talking about adaptation to climate change but also about preventing inequality gaps from widening, which is why she sees COP26 as an opportunity to generate new commitments.
Mexico on the road to COP26
Jorge Villareal, Director of Climate Policy at the Mexico Climate Initiative (ICM), pointed out that in the case of Mexico, the 13th largest emitter on the list, a long-term agenda has not been visualized. He criticized that in the Federal Expenditure Budget, although there was an increase for the environmental sector, there are still no tools to address climate change and there is no greater penetration of renewable energies. María Luisa Albores, Mexico's Secretary of the Environment, will present plans for reforestation, solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy at COP26. She also said that Mexico will demand more financing to combat climate change.
Mexico aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 22% by 2030 and the use of black carbon to 51%. It also highlights its commitment to generate clean energy whose goals are: 35.1% of electricity generation by 2024, 39.9% by 2030, and 50% by 2050. It is considered that this COP26 will be decisive. In addition, one of the issues that will stand out will be the pandemic that has highlighted the visible and negative effects it has had on the world, the challenges in world economies, the inequality of access to vaccines that affect the poorest countries, and the need to propose new comprehensive strategies to deal with the pandemic.