Why COP26 is key - Part 1

Interview by Sarah Parkinson

The year 2020 was supposed to be the year our world consolidated its commitment to take on climate change. Last year marked five years since the landmark Paris climate agreement, where the world came together in support of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels by 2030. The 2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, was to be held last November in Glasgow, UK, but has been rescheduled to 1-12 November 2021.

We recently sat down with Julia Kendal, Senior Policy Associate from Tearfund UK’s Global Advocacy Team, to learn why this rescheduled COP26 is so vital in addressing climate change and how the global church can get involved in the lead up.

What will be happening at COP26 and why is it so important? 

The big thing about COP26 is that this is the first real stocktake of how things are going since the landmark Paris agreement in 2015, where global commitments were made to limit warming to 2℃, or preferably 1.5℃. We at Tearfund and Renew Our World know that 0.5℃ will make a massive difference for the people we support, so we’re calling for commitments to reduce emissions in line with 1.5℃. 

So, this is the first time global leaders will come together since Paris to look at how we are tracking. We know that the next 10 years are critical in terms of limiting warming, so COP26 is a really important moment to take stock. 

In the lead up to COP26, countries have been submitting their nationally determined contributions (NCDs), which is a fancy term for national climate plans. That is what they are committing to do to reduce their emissions. So it’s a really key year in terms of setting climate ambition – not just at COP, but as those NDCs illustrate a race to the top between countries in their ambition. If there’s sufficient ambition from multiple countries, that will help COP itself be much more ambitious as we look to the decade ahead.

Are there also specific policy focuses for COP26?

There are technical areas that will also be looked at. The last COP in Madrid in 2019 was supposed to look at the carbon market, but there wasn’t any agreement on that at the time. So the hope is that that will happen this year at COP26. 

Climate finance, particularly around adaptation, is also a focus for COP26, which is really key for the campaigns and countries that Renew Our World is supporting.

Can you tell us more about the carbon market and climate finance?

The carbon market centres around the idea of carbon credits. It’s about enabling countries to essentially exchange carbon emissions. For example, if one country has an abundance of forest, that is a carbon sink that can form the basis of a trade of carbon credits with another country that may be struggling to meet their carbon emissions.

Climate finance centres around financial support for countries in relation to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. There’s already been a really big focus on mitigation, which we know is really important as every 0.1 of a degree that we can reduce warming levels will make a significant difference for vulnerable communities. 

However, we also know that climate change is happening; we’ve already seen warming of 1. So finance to adapt to the ramifications of that warming – for example, extreme weather events, flooding, storms and the impacts all of those have on food security – is also really important, especially for the communities Renew Our World supports.

What are the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic and a delayed COP on progress towards the Paris climate agreement?

I think the pandemic means things could go one of two ways. 

Obviously, there’s been a delay in terms of the stocktake, and that could be concerning because we know we cannot delay in any way. When we say the next 10 years are critical, we mean that every moment in the next 10 years is critical. 

However, there is also opportunity. Obviously, the pandemic is a tragic thing. It’s horrific that so many people have died and been impacted in so many truly difficult ways, but it has also presented this unique moment to reset economies. Nations have this opportunity to change their emissions trajectories now and ensure their economic responses to COVID-19 align with our 1.5℃ target.

Global carbon emissions have also dropped this year by 6.7%1. That is about the level of drop we need every year over the next decade. So that is both encouraging and sobering because it shows what is possible, but it has also happened because of this massive global shake-up that is not actually sustainable and that is impacting the poorest worst. So that’s a wake up call both in terms of the level of change we need and the need to ensure change happens in the right spaces so it doesn’t harm the most vulnerable.

The other element of the pandemic to navigate is also just the distraction of it. There are obviously so many immediate needs and of course we must support those in need. At the same time, we must also bear in mind that this climate crisis looms. COVID has brought short-termism into our minds; people have been thinking about the next days and weeks rather than months and years. That is and has always been the key challenge of the climate crisis, where we have to think in terms of much longer timescales. 

Let’s join together in holding our governments accountable for setting bold climate plans and praying for significant progress in line with the Paris climate agreement ahead of COP26 this November.

Keep a lookout for part 2 of this blog next week.

 

  1. Global Carbon Budget. Global Carbon Project. https://www.globalcarbonproject.org/carbonbudget/index.htm. Accessed February 25, 2021.

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