The latest round of climate talks are getting under way Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland. They are billed as the most important since the Paris conference six years ago. Here are some of the main goals of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26.
Keep 1.5 alive
Negotiators pledged in Paris that they would aim to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
Scientists have warned that the goal is slipping out of reach without drastic cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide and other planet-warming greenhouse gases.
The planet is already more than 1 degree warmer than it was in the late 1800s, producing more intense heat waves, stronger storms, deeper droughts, bigger wildfires, rising sea levels and more. The higher global temperatures go, the worse things will get, scientists say.
The plans that countries have submitted will not keep the world below the 1.5-degree goal. According to the latest United Nations Emissions Gap Report, current pledges put the world on a path to a disastrous 2.7-degree temperature increase.
Some experts are cautiously optimistic, however.
While 2.7 degrees of warming is dangerous, the world was headed for 3.7 degrees or more before the Paris conference, they note.
Plus, dozens of countries have pledged that by 2050 they will produce “net-zero” emissions. That means slashing carbon-generating sources and balancing the remaining emissions with carbon-absorbing measures such as planting trees.
Following through on these pledges would limit warming to about 2.2 degrees, according to the U.N. report — still too much, but getting closer.
“The Paris agreement is working, but it was never meant to work in one step,” Kaveh Guilanpour, vice president for international strategies at C2ES, a climate policy analysis nonprofit, said in a call with reporters.
Under the agreement, countries update their plans every five years, with the expectation that they will make deeper cuts. After a COVID-19-induced delay, COP26 will be the first chance since Paris to formally revisit those plans.
Most countries have increased their ambitions, with some important exceptions. China has not submitted a new plan. Nor has India, the world’s third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter. Russia’s new plan is no more ambitious than its old one. And Mexico and Brazil backslid.
Guilanpour does not expect negotiators to get to 1.5 degrees by the end of Glasgow. But all is not lost. “COP26 will be an important step, but not the last one,” he said.
Developing countries are angry that industrialized nations have fallen short on a 12-year-old pledge to help them fight climate change.
They say they have little to do with warming the planet but are suffering the effects. Since industrialized nations caused the problem by burning fossil fuels as they developed, they say, these nations should take responsibility by helping developing nations pursue a low-carbon development path and adapt to a warmer planet.
Back in 2009, developed countries agreed. They pledged to commit $100 billion per year to developing countries.
They have not. Funding reached $79.6 billion in 2019, according to the latest available data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“These failures to deliver on the commitments agreed to by developed countries undermines trust and confidence in the multilateral system,” said a sharply worded statement from a group of 24 developing countries including China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
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Developing countries are also calling for additional financing to cover loss and damage from extreme weather disasters and other climate impacts.
The United States has vigorously opposed any language that suggests liability.
Other developed countries oppose separate funding, too. The European Union prefers to include it under adaptation. It’s not clear that there will be any movement on this front in Glasgow.
Can the US deliver?
U.S. President Joe Biden will be attending the World Leaders Summit at the start of COP26. Biden aims to present a much different approach than his predecessor, Donald Trump, who withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement.
Biden rejoined the agreement on his first day in office. He has quadrupled the U.S. commitment to climate finance. And he has pledged that the United States will be at net-zero emissions by 2050.
Political realities are complicating his goals, however.
[[CHECK IF STILL OK WHEN USED]] Congress has stripped key provisions from a major bill addressing climate change. The bill is still under negotiation. It is not clear whether Biden will arrive in Glasgow with legislation to back up his ambitions.
The mood going into Glasgow is fairly downbeat.
“Progress on these issues will not be easy,” Lorena Gonzalez of the World Resources Institute Finance Center told reporters. Many of the agenda items “have been put off in years past because they’re among the most complex issues that negotiators are trying to tackle.”