The British government is expecting around 30,000 guests in Glasgow at the end of this month, as the city plays host to COP26.
The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference will be crucial for the nations of the world to agree on how to reach net-zero by 2050, and limit global temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
After a one-year delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic the 196 signatories of the original United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCCC), will be in attendance to set out renewed commitments to reducing carbon emissions.
What is COP?
COP is an annual conference which has taken place almost every year since 1992, when the UNFCCC was signed. The most well-known is COP21 when the Paris Climate Agreement was reached, this agreement stipulates that global temperatures must be held at as much below 2C as possible, although it has been criticised as being too weak.
Those countries who are signed up to the UNFCCC must update their climate action plans every five years, it is these which will be presented at COP26. The ambitious targets which nations are expected to set for reducing emissions by 2030 are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and are worked out at an individual national level.
Currently, global temperatures are 1.1 – 1.2C above pre-industrial levels and if current targets in NDCs are followed global temperatures will be 2.4C higher by the end of the century.
The reason ‘pre-industrial levels’ is used as a term is that the industrial revolution is when fossil fuels began to be used as an energy source, creating the modern world as we know it.
What is on the COP26 agenda?
To reach net-zero by 2050, ambitious targets must be set in the NDC’s of individual nations, but agreements are also sought on other issues. Phasing out coal, increasing climate finance to poorer countries, and regenerating natural carbon sinks are all on the COP26 agenda.
Increasing finance to poorer nations to help them transition from fossil fuel use and mitigate the effects of climate change has so far been a talking point for US President, Joe Biden, who has pledged $11 billion a year by 2024.
All eyes are on India, China, Mexico, South Africa and Australia when it comes to coal as all are big consumers and producers of the most polluting fossil fuel. Likewise countries like Indonesia and Brazil come under scrutiny when it comes to protecting carbon sinks as they are home to both large rainforests and practices of deforestation.
However, many rightly point out that although so-called developing nations are behind on current climate targets, the overwhelming amount of historic emissions come from developed nations in Europe and North America.
Once released CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 100 years meaning that most of the carbon currently in the atmosphere was released by industrial nations in the 19th and 20th century. Similarly the reason natural carbon sinks do not exist in these countries is because they have already been destroyed, for example by draining wetlands on the eastern coast of England.
Due to the long life of carbon, the 2020s is often called a crucial decade by scientists. It represents the narrow window to reduce emissions enough to limit temperatures to 1.5C, a reduction of 7% a year would be required to reach this target.
Another issue on the table at COP26 will be the controversial ‘carbon trading’, whereby rich countries can cut their own emissions by funding projects such as tree plantations or solar panels in a developing nation.
What everyone is hoping to avoid is a conference such as COP15 in Copenhagen which ended in chaos and recriminations.
What are the UK’s NDCs?
The UK’s current target is to reduce emissions by 68% in comparison to 1990 by 2030. The government has set this target in line with recommendations of the Climate Change Committee (CCC).
The CCC recommended that carbon offsets are not used as part of the UK’s NDCs which the government has acknowledged, however there are no provisions made for decarbonising shipping or aviation.
As part of this target in 2020 the UK government set out a 10 point plan it billed the ‘Green Industrial Revolution’. These 10 points include; an end to sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, boosting hydrogen with a promise of a whole town heated using hydrogen by the end of the decade, a four times increase in offshore wind capacity by 2030, £523 million investment in nuclear power, £1 billion for home insulation, £200 million for carbon capture, support for green energy in the aviation and maritime sector, 30,000 hectares of trees planted a year, promotion of cycling, walking and public transport, and a pledge to make London a ‘centre for green finance’.
Critics have said that the UK government’s plan is vague when it comes to ‘supporting green technology’, and that support for green transport and home insulation makes use of schemes which already exist.
Since then new proposals have been announced which flesh out the 10 point plan. These include an announcement of £623 million in grants for electric vehicles and charging points, £350 million for automotive supply chains to help them move to electric, £5,000 grants made available for homeowners to install low-carbon heat pumps, and £120 million to develop small “modular” nuclear reactors.
The plan makes no mention of encouraging a reduction of meat eating or aviation which has led to criticism from some quarters.
What can you do for COP26?
Unfortunately the deadline for members of the public to attend COP26 as part of an observer organisation, as a volunteer, or to perform or exhibit has passed. However there are still many ways that you can be involved in this historic event.
There will also be protests and fringe events at COP26 which you can be involved in, which you can find out about here.
But the best way to get involved with COP26 is by keeping informed of developments and how the decisions made will affect you. Big decisions which affect the future of the planet, and humanity, are going to be made so keep your eyes on the headlines!