We’ve heard a lot about climate change in recent years, but most of the world’s governments are spending the coming two weeks at a conference in Katowice, Poland, focused solely on it. It’s part of COP26, the 26th annual United Nations climate conference where heads of state and government will gather and set out their global climate targets, rules, and procedures for the following two years.
What to Expect at COP26
It’s the clearest focus of this week’s talks, and the first to provide a clear indication of what climate action to expect on the basis of the pledges made at the Paris climate summit in 2015, when most of the parties to the Paris Agreement — including the United States, China, and India — pledged to make “substantial and ambitious” reductions in their global greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s expected that leading developing economies will announce new or updated national climate plans, bringing the total number of national climate plans to roughly 150. These plans will help each country make a determination of the emission reductions it’s able to undertake without jeopardizing economic growth and economic development.
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Scientists expect some emerging countries, such as China and India, to set very ambitious targets for lowering their emissions. This is unlikely, but is plausible, and it would be important for the developing countries’ discussions to express this.
The Friends of the Paris Agreement are expected to declare their intention to meet their pledge, provided that the pledges that countries have already made translate into real action. U.S. officials, as well as China and India, are expected to insist that these pledges be met.
One of the most contentious issues will be to set out the rules for enforcing countries’ promises to reduce emissions. Many developing countries and civil society organizations argue that rules need to be developed to make sure that the commitments countries make to meet their promises, or pledges that countries are to make to fulfill promises to reduce emissions, are implemented. They say that it is not good enough that countries have good intentions and ambitions, that countries need to be forced to act in order to make sure that their pledges are met.
Rather than entering into more guidelines for setting carbon emission reduction targets, civil society organizations and developing countries are arguing that the rules that will guide how these targets will be achieved must be developed. They want parties to develop innovative, technology-based climate change mitigation measures that would save developing countries trillions of dollars and rapidly reduce their emissions in the next decades.
The United States will also present its new action plan to reduce emissions through 2020, and it will probably set additional commitments on energy efficiency and renewable energy, including incentives for uptake of clean energy technologies.
This year’s climate talks will be the last climate talks on the local level before the formal talks at COP24 in Katowice in December, the 34th annual United Nations climate conference.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has promised that the U.S. will meet its pledge to take actions that will lead to emissions cuts worth the equivalent of one year’s additional emissions. This year’s COP will provide the final benchmark for the U.S. to meet. If the U.S. fails to meet the 2016-2030 emissions-reduction commitments it made in Paris, it will be difficult to improve on them in 2020 or 2022, as U.S. officials have said that they will attempt to do.
Many experts and members of civil society groups, however, have criticized the US National Climate Assessment — a comprehensive report released by the White House on 10 October — as another piece of White House propaganda that reflects a narrow, knee-jerk, anti-science political ideology that views the science on climate change as irrelevant.
If the US does not live up to its promise to reduce emissions by 11% below 2005 levels by 2020, member nations of the Paris Agreement will likely seek to tighten the caps that the countries have agreed to meet. This would also help ensure that countries’ promises would be met.
The next year-and-a-half are vital ones as the world attempts to implement the Paris Agreement. It will be crucial for the progress that is made to be enshrined in tangible and detailed rules that are enforced.
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