By Bob Aston

It is now just a few days for the UK in partnership with Italy to host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, UK from 31 October to 12 November 2021. The COP26 summit will gather more than 25,000 world’s interested parties, physically and virtually to “accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the United National Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)”.

The Conference will also serve as the Sixteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP16); and the Third Session of the Conference of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMP3). It will also serve as the 52nd – 55th Sessions of the Subsidiary Bodies (SBSTA and SBI).

COP26 is taking place just months after the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘Summary for Policymakers of the Working Group I Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis.’ The report shows that global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered. Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius and 2 degrees Celsius will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades.

The Report shows that Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe. Evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence, has strengthened since the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the IPCC.

This also reinforces The State of the Climate in Africa 2020 Report by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which shows that during 2020, the climate indicators in Africa were characterized by continued warming temperatures, accelerating sea-level rise, melting of the continent’s iconic glaciers, extreme weather and climate events, such as floods, landslides, and droughts, and associated devastating impacts.

The UNFCCC has identified four broad goals in its manifesto for COP26. These are secure global net-zero by mid-century, and keep 1.5 degrees within reach; adapt to protect communities and natural habitats; mobilize finance; and work together to deliver.

Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach

Six years ago, during COP21, 196 Parties adopted the Paris Agreement. The goal of the legally binding International Treaty on Climate Change is to limit the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and also pursue efforts to limit the temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

As part of the Paris Agreement, every country agreed to communicate or update their emissions reduction targets every five years known as Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This is supposed to reflect their highest possible ambition and a progression over time.

However, the NDC Synthesis Report, which contains information from the 164 latest available nationally determined contributions communicated by the 191 Parties to the Paris Agreement, including the 86 new or updated NDCs communicated by 113 Parties, shows that the total Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions level in 2030 taking into account implementation of the latest NDCs is expected to be 16.3 percent above the 2010 level as temperature could rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius. The Report shows that carbon dioxide emissions need to decline by about 45 percent from the 2010 levels by 2030 in order to reach net zero by 2050.

This implies an urgent need for either a significant increase in the level of ambition of NDCs between now and 2030 or a significant overachievement of the latest NDCs or a combination of both, in order to attain cost-optimal emission levels suggested in many of the scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As of 21 October 2021, 114 countries and the European Union had submitted updated NDCs. Some major emitters like the US, United Kingdom, and China have proposed or submitted stronger targets. However, others, like Russia, Brazil, and Australia, did not meaningfully ramp up their goals. Still others like India have yet to submit an updated NDC.

Similarly, although the G20 group of nations account for around 80 percent of global emissions and more than 80 percent of global gross domestic product, only 13 of the G20 have committed to net zero and only 8 have submitted updated NDCs that are more ambitious than previous ones.

G20 leaders must step up ahead of COP26 as they are key in ensuring we keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. COP26 also needs to be decisive in accelerating the phase out of coal, curtailing deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables among others.

Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The latest IPCC report shows that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years.  There is evidence of observed changes in extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones as well as reductions in Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that climate change directly contributes to USD 520 million in direct economic damages since the turn of the century in Sub Saharan Africa. It estimates that for Sub Saharan Africa, adaptation will be expensive- estimated at USD 30-50 billion (2-3 percent regional GDP) each year over the next decade-but less costly than frequent disaster relief.

Similarly, the World Bank’s Revised Estimates of the Impact of Climate Change on Extreme Poverty by 2030 Background Paper, shows that the range of the number of people falling into poverty due to climate change is between 32 million and 132 million in most scenarios.

The Paris Agreement recognises that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions and that it is a key component of and makes a contribution to the long-term global response to climate change to protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems.

It also reaffirmed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage as the main vehicle under the UNFCCC process to avert, minimize and address loss and damage associated with climate change impacts, including extreme weather events and slow onset events. In order to protect and restore nature for the benefit of people and climate, COP26 needs to among others finalise the governance issues around loss and damage including developed countries obligations.

COP26 has a day on adaptation and loss and damage. Some of the agenda items on adaptation include report on the adaptation committee (for 2019, 2020 and 2021); national adaptation plans; Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with climate change impacts; and Nairobi Work Programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

Mobilising climate finance

Through the Cancun Agreements in 2010, developed country Parties committed, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation, to a goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries.

When adopting the Paris Agreement, Parties confirmed this goal, called for a concrete road map to achieve the goal by 2020, and agreed that before 2025 the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year.

However, reaching this target is still a challenge as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Report on Climate Finance Provided and Mobilised by Developed Countries, shows that total finance reached USD 79.6 billion in 2019, reinforcing the likelihood that developed countries missed the 2020 target.

A successful outcome at COP26 on finance requires countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and Italy to commit an additional USD 2-4 billion a year to fulfil their fair share of climate finance.

Some of the agenda items on climate finance that COP26 will address include: long term climate finance; matters relating to the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF); Report of the Green Climate Fund and Global Environment Facility to the Conference of the Parties and guidance to both the GCF and GEF (for 2020 and 2021); and the seventh review of the Financial Mechanism.

Work together to deliver

Success in Glasgow means ensuring that no voices remain unheard, not viable proposals left on the table. Reaching an agreement will depend on leaving no issue behind. A focus for COP26 is to work together to finalise the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement, called the ‘Paris Rulebook’.

This will include finding solutions on carbon markets, resolving transparency mechanism issues, agreeing on common reporting timeframes, resolving pending issues in loss and damage, fulfilling the USD 100 billion annually in climate finance to support the needs of developing nations and brokering an agreement that drives ambition from governments over the coming years to keep the 1.5 degrees Celsius alive.

Success or failure of COP26

According to Alok Sharma, the UK cabinet minister who is COP26 president-designate, the science is clear, the impacts of the climate crisis can be seen around the world and if we don’t act now, we will continue to see the worst effects impact lives, livelihoods and natural habitats. Countries, governments, businesses and societies must follow the science and embrace their responsibility to keep the goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius alive.

The success or failure of COP26 is in world leaders’ hands. World leaders will determine whether we secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach or we continue experiencing extremes such as heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts and tropical cyclones as well as reductions in Arctic Sea ice, snow cover and permafrost.

Bob Aston, Project Officer at the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), a member of ACCESS Coalition. He can be reached at