A week from now, a crucial round of the United Nations climate negotiations begins in Glasgow and nothing more could be at stake. In the end, we will know how far the nations are ready to go to meet the greatest challenge of humanity.
So is the COP26 on the road to success? There are reasons to hope.
More than 100 countries, including China, the United States and the United Kingdom, are already committed to achieving net zero emissions. Renewable energies are booming around the world, the tide is turning against fossil fuels and the economic costs of not acting against climate change are becoming more and more apparent.
But if history has taught us anything, no country at the summit will agree to do more to tackle climate change than it believes at home. In other words, domestic politics drives international negotiations.
What’s going to happen in Glasgow?
The first COP, the Conference of the Contracting Parties, took place in Berlin in 1995. About a quarter of a century later it will meet for the 26th time.
COP26 will determine the direction of key issues in the fight against global warming. The most important of these is how well nations have implemented their Paris Agreement commitments to keep global warming well below 2 ℃ and how far they will increase those ambitions.
Other topics on the agenda are climate finance for developing countries, adaptation to climate change and rules for CO2 trading.
Starting October 31, hundreds of government delegates will spend two weeks participating in complex and intense negotiations on the specific wording of the agreement.
Usually what the delegates cannot resolve is left to the political leaders who negotiate the most sensitive issues. Historically, the final agreement comes in the early hours of the last meeting.
Outside the convention center is the unofficial COP, which is more like a world climate exhibition. Thousands of representatives from business, civil society and other countries – from bankers and billionaires to students and survivors – gather for panel discussions, exhibitions and protests.
The progress is slow
Global climate talks involve people from all over the world with different interests, preferences and mandates (what negotiators sometimes refer to as “red lines”). As you can imagine, progress can be slow.
Almost 200 nations have signed the Paris Agreement and the agreement is reached by consensus. This means that only one country can hold up progress for hours or even days.
Cynics – mostly those who want to delay climate protection – claim that the whole process is nothing more than talking shop.
It is true that speaking is slow. But it is also much better than coercion, and without the negotiations the countries would have much less pressure to act. It is also true that over the past 25 years these negotiations have redefined how the world thinks and acts on climate change.
After all, it was the COP in Paris that commissioned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to prepare a special report on the effects of global warming of 1.5 ℃ above pre-industrial levels. His findings met with a worldwide response.
It found we need to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 ° C and close to zero by around 2050.
But since the Paris Agreement was signed, global emissions have continued to rise despite the impact of COVID-19. COP26 is an important test of whether the world can change that and avert runaway global warming.
Will Glasgow deliver?
For the Glasgow Summit to be a success, a few things have to go right. First of all, countries need to commit not simply to net zero targets by 2050, but to stronger targets for 2030. Without it, there is no chance that the world will keep the global temperature rise to 2 ° C.
Large emitters will also need to provide funding and technology to developing countries to enable them to transition to clean energy and adapt to the effects of climate change, including severe floods and prolonged droughts.
Other issues, such as rules for international carbon markets, will also be on the agenda, but even the most resilient carbon markets are unlikely to see emissions reductions as quickly as scientists warn to avert disaster.
There are signs of hope. The US has historically been the main player in international negotiations, and President Joe Biden outlined the most ambitious climate plans in the country’s history ahead of the Glasgow Summit.
The US, along with the UK, the European Union, and a number of smaller countries, including those in the Pacific, form a strong and influential coalition of countries working to limit warming to 1.5 ° C.
So what’s in their way? Well, what the countries are ready to commit in Glasgow depends not so much on what happens in Glasgow but on domestic politics in their capitals.
For this reason, the Washington Democrats are working feverishly to get Biden’s massive budget bill, including measures such as a clean electricity program, through Congress. The bill is vital to the president’s commitment to cut emissions in half by 2030.
It’s also why astute observers fixate on well-known climate stragglers who are heavily dependent on fossil fuels, like Brazil, Russia, and Australia, to see if domestic developments could lead these nations to set more ambitious goals for themselves by 2030 .
And that’s why lobbyists for industries that have to lose from climate change – namely oil, gas and coal – know to stop climate protection in Glasgow, they have to stop climate protection at home.
International negotiations are often referred to as a two-tier game. Changes at the national level can enable new and hopefully ambitious realignments at the international level.
Will these realignments take place? We don’t have long to find out, but at the national level, there has never been a worse time in many countries to advocate fossil fuels – and this should give us all hope that action against climate change is more likely than ever.
Christian Downie, Associate Professor, Australian National University. This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
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