Various “extensions”, or additions to the UNFCCC treaty were negotiated during these COPs to establish legally binding limits on gas emissions for each country, and to define a mechanism to assess compliance.
Among them is the Kyoto Protocol, from 1997, which defined the emission limit that developed countries should reach by 2012; and the Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015, when it was established that all countries in the world would increase efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial-era temperatures, and increase funding in action climate.
COP26 then gains even more interest: during the conference, among other matters, the delegations will have to finalize the “Paris Regulations”, which are the necessary rules to implement the Agreement. This time, countries will need to agree on common deadlines for the frequency of reviews and tracking of their climate commitments.
That is, Paris has set the goal, limiting global warming to below two degrees (the ideal would be 1.5°C), but Glasgow is the last chance to make that a reality.This brings us to the initial question: why is it considered the last chance? Like a boa constrictor slowly squeezing its prey to death, climate change is not just another ‘discomfort’ and has come to be understood as a life-threatening global emergency in just three decades.
While new commitments were made by countries ahead of COP26, the world remains on track for a dangerous global temperature rise of at least 2.7°C this century, even if the Paris targets are met.
The science is clear: a rise in temperatures of this magnitude by the end of the century could mean, among other things, a 62% increase in areas burned by wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere during the summer, the loss of habitat for a third of mammals in the world and more frequent droughts, lasting between four and ten months.
The main information on the subject was published by the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which sounded a decisive “red alert” for the climate.
UN chief António Guterres calls this scenario a “climate catastrophe”, which is already being felt to a deadly degree in the most vulnerable parts of the world, such as sub-Saharan Africa and the small island states, hit by rising levels from the sea.
Millions of people are already being displaced and killed by disasters exacerbated by climate change. For Guterres and the hundreds of IPCC scientists, a 1.5°C warming scenario is the “only habitable future for humanity”.
Time is ticking, and to have a chance of limiting the increase, the world needs to halve greenhouse gas emissions over the next eight years. This is a gigantic task that we will only be able to do if the leaders participating in COP26 present bold, timely and early plans to phase out coal and transform their economies to zero emissions.
But haven’t countries like China and the United States already committed to net zero emissions? The latest UN Emissions Gap Report explains that a total of 49 countries, plus the European Union, have pledged a net zero target. This covers more than half of global domestic greenhouse gas emissions, more than half of global GDP and a third of the global population. Eleven targets are approved by law, covering 12% of global emissions.
Sounds great, right? But there is a problem: many of the commitments will not be achieved until after 2030, raising doubts about their scope. Additionally, many of these pledges are considered “vague” and inconsistent with Nationally Determined Contributions, known as NDCs.
The explanation leads again to why COP26 is so important. “The time for diplomatic niceties is over. If governments, especially those of the G20, do not rise up and lead this effort, we will be heading for terrible human suffering”, warns Guterres.