COP26: Stage set for crucial climate negotiations

This weekend, leaders from around the world will come to Scotland to pledge their commitments in the fight against global warming.

Glasgow is set to host the United Nations Climate Change Conference for two weeks starting Sunday, where nations are expected to negotiate emissions reduction targets as part of a global plan to address the climate emergency.

This year’s meeting is the 26th “Conference of the Parties” (hence COP26) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and much is at stake at this year’s event. Climate scientists have said that time is running out for leaders to act to avert the most devastating effects of global warming.

A Report released earlier this week of the UN Environment Program warned that existing national climate promises are insufficient to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the intended goal of the Paris Agreement. And a separate UN report released in August found that climate change is intensifying, accelerating and already affecting all regions of the planet. At that time, UN Secretary General António Guterres called the situation a “Code Red for Humanity”.

World leaders will be under pressure to set ambitious emissions reduction targets, but the question remains whether the richest nations and those who have historically contributed most to climate change will be aggressive enough to meet their commitments . Many developing countries account for a relatively small part of global greenhouse gas emissions, but are disproportionately affected by sea level rise, droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that are exacerbated by climate change.

In the run-up to the conference beginning on Sunday, Pope Francis called for a “renewed awareness of shared responsibility for our world” and urged political leaders to take measures to give future generations “concrete hope”.

The Pope does not attend the summit personally, but the Vatican sends a delegation led by its Foreign Minister, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

President Joe Biden will attend with 12 cabinet members and senior administrators. All eyes will be on the United States at this year’s event, which marks the return of American officials to global climate negotiations since Biden officially joined the Paris Agreement earlier this year.

COP26: Stage set for crucial climate negotiations 1

More than 100 other Heads of State and Government are expected to attend Glasgow, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. There are some notable no-shows, however: Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.

Former President Barack Obama, who signed the Paris Agreement in 2016, will make remarks at COP26 and participate in a panel discussion. In a statement before the summit, he praised young activists for pushing older generations into action.

“And if the old people don’t, get out of the way because these young people are coming and they’re ready to make sure we have a sustainable planet and a better future for our children and grandchildren,” he said in a video statement released by the Obama Foundation.

But while much depends on the negotiations to be held in Glasgow, efforts to address the climate crisis must go beyond diplomacy and political grandeur, said Kate Marvel, a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

“The climate doesn’t really care about peaks,” she said. “The atmosphere cares about how much carbon dioxide gets into it. So if we want to limit warming to avoid the worst-case scenario, we have to do everything we can to reduce greenhouse gases.”

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