NAIROBI, Oct 31 (Swara) – The 26th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (COP26) opened on Sunday in Glasgow with world leaders under pressure to make commitments limit greenhouse gas emissions to zero to prevent a climate catastrophe that threatens to make the planet uninhabitable for many species, including humans.

Scientists have warned global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius about the pre-industrial temperatures could change the planet’s climatic patterns dramatically.

The 2015 UN climate conference in Paris (COP21) ended with the adoption of the Paris Agreement, a global accord on tackling climate change. The Agreement calls for action from all  signatory countries (Parties) and not just the industrialised nations. In addition to mitigation (cutting greenhouse gas emissions) it also agrees action on adaptation (responding to the impacts of climate change) and loss and damage (response to climate catastrophe). It also agrees that wealthier nations should provide finance and technology to help poor and vulnerable countries to take action.

Countries made pledges to implement the Paris Agreement through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by either 2025 or 2030.

The official negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland will take place over two weeks until November 12. The first week is primarily technical negotiations by government officials. The second week will be dominated by the high level Ministerial and Heads of State meetings. The most challenging issues of the negotiations go to the Ministers to make the final negotiated decisions.

There are several technical issues to be finalised at COP26. These include some difficult sticking points which were carried over from COP25 in Madrid in 2019. Issues which will be brought to COP26 include:

  • Carbon market mechanisms, which would allow one country to purchase carbon credits (reductions) from another country to allow the purchasing country to continue to emit within its borders. Carbon markets may also include trade in ‘negative’ emissions such as carbon absorption through forestry.
  • Funding for loss and damage: While loss and damage is a core part of the Paris Agreement, there is no mechanism as yet within the UNFCCC to fund responses when vulnerable countries experience loss and damage. This is viewed as a critical factor by the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to unlock the negotiations but is resisted by many wealthy nations.
  • Discussions over the delivery of the $100 billion finance target are likely, and again will be a critical factor for less developed countries. Additionally, COP26 is likely to set the next target for climate finance to be achieved by 2025.
  • An increasingly important aspect of the climate debate is around ‘nature-based solutions’ (NBS). That is how nature (forests, agriculture and ecosystems) can become a climate solution for absorbing carbon and for protecting against climate impacts. COP26 will start to discuss how to integrate NBS into the Paris Agreement implementation strategy.
  • The other element of the ‘Paris rulebook’ which requires agreement is on common timeframes for countries’ NDCs – whether those timeframes should be five years or ten years. The shorter timeframe means revision of NDCs more frequently, potentially driving greater ambition than if they were only revised every decade.

As the COP26 got under way, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that record atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations and associated accumulated heat have propelled the planet into uncharted territory, with far-reaching repercussions for current and future generations.

The past seven years are on track to be the seven warmest on record, according to the provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report, based on data for the first nine months of 2021. A temporary cooling “La Niña” event early in the year means that 2021 is expected to be “only” the fifth to seventh warmest year on record. But this does not negate or reverse the long-term trend of rising temperatures.

Global sea level rise accelerated since 2013 to a new high in 2021, with continued ocean warming and ocean acidification.

The report combines input from multiple United Nations agencies, national meteorological and hydrological services and scientific experts. It highlights impacts on food security and population displacement, harming crucial ecosystems and undermining progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

“The provisional WMO State of the Global Climate 2021 report draws from the latest scientific evidence to show how our planet is changing before our eyes. From the ocean depths to mountain tops, from melting glaciers to relentless extreme weather events, ecosystems and communities around the globe are being devastated. COP26 must be a turning point for people and planet,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

“Scientists are clear on the facts.  Now leaders need to be just as clear in their actions. The door is open; the solutions are there. COP26 must be a turning point. We must act now – with ambition and solidarity – to safeguard our future and save humanity,” said Guterres in a video statement.