COP26: Kicking the can down the road?

A draft final statement published on Wednesday calls on countries to step up their emission reduction commitments by next year’s COP, as research shows current targets would lead the world to 2.4 degrees of warming.

With only two days to go to the scheduled end of the UN climate conference in Glasgow, or COP26, negotiators will be looking to strike a final deal over the coming days.

A draft statement published in the early hours of Wednesday by the UN climate agency will form the basis for the final political decision.

But the outcome of the much-anticipated conference, touted as the “make or break” moment for tackling the climate crisis, appears anticlimactic to most observers.

One of the key goals of the conference was to produce updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or emissions reduction goals that each country submits voluntarily, that would make significant strides towards keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The 2015 Paris Agreement requires parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which has near universal membership – to update and boost their NDCs every five years. With scientists warning that the next decade will be crucial to prevent some of the worst effects of climate change, COP26 was the time to step up those ambitions and lay out plans to achieve them.

But according to research published this week by Climate Action Tracker, the current short-term 2030 targets put the world on track for a 2.4 degrees Celsius temperature increase by the end of the century.

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There’s also a significant gap between targets and their implementation, the research said. Under current policies, it is estimated that temperatures will rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

“It is very frustrating,” professor Mizan Khan, Deputy Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development at Bangladesh’s Independent University and the country’s chief climate finance negotiator, told TRT World. “There is a huge disconnect between climate science and climate policy,” he added.

Proposed by COP26’s president Alok Sharma, the statement itself acknowledges the shortfall by calling on countries that have not yet submitted their updated climate goals to “do so as soon as possible” ahead of the next COP in November 2022.

Scientists have said that unless global emissions are reduced by at least 45 percent by 2030, the target of keeping global temperatures from rising over 1.5 degrees Celsius will be out of reach. This means disasters and slow-onset consequences of climate change including floods, drought, heatwaves and sea-level rise will increase in intensity. Developing countries with less infrastructure and resources in place to withstand the effects of a changing climate are poised to suffer most from the social, security, and economic repercussions.

Since 2008, weather-related disasters have forced more than 21 million people around the world to flee their homes — the equivalent of 41 people a minute.

“The new draft final decision text published today is not a plan to solve the climate crisis, it’s an agreement that we’ll all cross our fingers and hope for the best,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace international, wrote on Twitter. “It’s a polite request that countries maybe, possibly, do more next year. That’s not good enough.”

The draft published today also “notes with serious concern” that emissions are set to rise 13,7 percent above 2010 levels in 2030 under current pledges and implementation plans.

The draft calls on parties to “accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels” in a welcome first mention of the need to tackle oil and natural gas alongside coal at a UN climate conference. It also recognises that more needs to be done to meet the needs for adaptation and to address loss and damage, two issues that are key for developing country negotiators.

“Adaptation is viewed as bringing only local and national, not global benefits,” explains professor Khan, adding that fierce discussions were still ongoing on the issue of climate finance for developing countries.

“This is the reason why mitigation dominates in climate financing, because it is viewed as bringing in greater benefits. This is a very narrow understanding of adaptation,” he told TRT World from Glasgow.

“’Urging’, ‘encouraging’ and ‘inviting’ is NOT the decisive language that this moment calls for,” said Ambassador Aubrey Webson, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) group representing 39 small island and low-lying coastal states in the UN climate process. “We have limited time left at COP26 to get this right.”

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