A handy guide to COP26 climate talks and why it’s vital

In the backdrop of unusual, terrifying, and record-breaking weather events across the world, the United Kingdom is hosting the 26th iteration of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12, 2021.
At the COPs, nations come together to assess global progress towards tackling runaway climate change. The first COP meeting was held in 1995 in Berlin (Germany) and was dubbed COP1.

Paris Agreement of 2015

In 2015, during the COP21 in Paris, almost every nation in the world agreed to a new climate treaty to stop runaway climate change, which was called the Paris Agreement of 2015.
Under the landmark agreement, countries have to regularly review their pollution-reduction pledges in order to ensure the world stays on track to keep global warming below 1.5°C and move towards net-zero carbon emissions. Unfortunately, most countries have not been able to keep their initial promises, called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), submitted in 2016.

Main goals of COP26

The Glasgow conference assumes significance as the Paris Agreement of 2015 states that countries must revisit their promises every five years and, if possible, increase their targets.
Environmental activists and officials hope that COP26 will see countries offering fresh and ambitious pledges to cut carbon emissions further and adopt/promote renewable energy in a big way.
Scientists have said global emissions need to roughly halve by 2030 and reach “net zero” by 2050. Net zero means that by 2050, the emissions pumped into the atmosphere by humans need to be balanced by the creation of new carbon sinks to absorb an equivalent amount.
The most important result of the summit will be the number of countries who pledge to reach net zero by 2050.

‘Coal, cars, cash and trees’

The UK hosts describe the aims for COP26 as “coal, cars, cash and trees”.
That means ending the use of the most polluting fossil fuel; phasing out the internal combustion engine; raising cash to help developing countries transition to cleaner energy and protect against the ravages of climate change; and reversing deforestation. They also aim to figure out global rules for pricing and trading carbon globally.
Developing nations say rich countries wrecked the planet as they industrialized, and it’s now unfair they’re thwarting others’ economic progress — and failing to provide enough cash to help poor countries adjust. That’s why there’s so much talk about how much money will be on the table.
The buzzword to watch is Article Six — referring to those lines in the Paris deal that paved the way for a global carbon market but are so complex and controversial that they are yet to be finalized.

The host also has the ambitious plan to set a target for the meeting to consign coal to history — and has been pushing for the goal at G7 and G20 meetings this year — with mixed success.
But coal is still a massive part of the energy mix, and the recent surge in energy prices has forced countries into even greater reliance on the fuel. China is ordering miners to dig up as much as they can and in the US a key lawmaker from coal-rich West Virginia is getting in the way of President Joe Biden’s green plans.

Cost of failure

China – the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases – submitted an updated NDC on October 28, 2021, with little change from pledges it announced almost a year ago. Major fossil fuel producers such as Russia and Australia seem unwilling to strengthen their commitments.
Saudi Arabia strengthened its targets but doesn’t count exports of oil and gas, which it says it will continue producing.
Studies have shown that the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius can mean the submersion of small island states, the death of coral reefs, extreme heat waves, flooding and wildfires, and pervasive crop failure.
That translates into many premature deaths, more mass migration, major economic losses, large swaths of unliveable land and violent conflict over resources and food – what the UN secretary-general has called “a hellish future”.

When does COP26 start?

COP26 was supposed to take place last year, but was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The summit officially kicks off on October 31, 2021, with the opening address. This will be given by Prince Charles, after the Queen pulled out due to health reasons.
Charles also delivered the opening speech at COP21 in Paris.
On November 1, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host the opening ceremony, before the world leaders’ summit gets underway. This is a two-day event which will see some of the world’s most powerful people present their ideas for working towards the goal of net zero carbon emissions.

India’s stand

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be attending the conference in-person and will address the summit on Monday. He will highlight the need to comprehensively address climate change issues, including equitable distribution of carbon space, support for mitigation and adaptation and resilience building measures, mobilization of finance, technology transfer and importance of sustainable lifestyles for green and inclusive growth.
India’s ambitious 450 GW renewable energy goal by 2030, its hydrogen mission, plan to move Indian railways to ‘net-zero’ emission by 2030, land degradation neutrality, and programme to increase forest cover (natural carbon sink) will be the key points it will seek to drive home at COP26.
The climate negotiations from the Indian side will be led by environment minister Bhupender Yadav and environment secretary R P Gupta during the COP26.

It is expected that the PM will urge more countries to take part in three key multilateral institutions/efforts – International Solar Alliance (ISA), Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) and Leadership Group for Industry Transition (LeadIT) – to strengthen mitigation and adaptation goals of the Paris Agreement. All these three multilateral efforts are being spearheaded by India with France being a major partner in the ISA and Sweden in LeadIT.
Except Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, most of the world leaders will attend the leaders’ summit in-person.

With inputs from agencies

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