A Brief Overview of COP26 - Did It Make Any Difference?

A Brief Overview of COP26 - Did It Make Any Difference?

The UN COP26 Conference took place from 31 Oct to 12 Nov 2021 hosted in partnership between the UK and Italy to discuss the problem of climate change.

Prof. Geetika Jha
November, 30 2021
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The Conference of Parties is the central decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It mainly reviews the national communication and emission decision submitted by the parties and assesses the measures taken by the parties towards fulfilling the ultimate goal of the UNFCCC. COP meets annually, the first meeting being in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.

COP26 had four main goals to be discussed.

  1. To keep the goal of limiting the rise of the earth’s temperature by 1.5ºC, the countries must align their activities and accelerate their 2030 emission reduction targets for reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century. Hence, it was required to phase out the coal usage as soon as possible. Deforestation to be discouraged and encourage the use of electric vehicles and investment in renewables.
  2. To protect and restore ecosystems and build a resilient infrastructure.
  3. Developed countries were required to mobilize $100bn for financing towards climate protection activities.
  4. To work together and speed up activities towards climate protection by showing collaboration between governments, businesses, and civilians.

To understand the proceedings of COP26 in a nutshell, let's know – did the countries commit to accelerating their emission cuts by 2030? However, 151 countries submitted their NDC (nationally determined contributions) for reducing their emissions by 2030.

However, the reduction targets of certain countries China, Australia, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, are relatively low and insufficient to achieve the net-zero targets. This creates a massive “credibility gap” between the objectives and resolutions.

The COP26 agreement directed the countries to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets by 2022. Diplomats barely managed to keep hopes of limiting temperature rise by 1.5ºC. By the end of 2022, after seeing the major emitters’ new targets, the world would better know whether the Paris agreement’s temperature goals are being reached or breached. If breached, then by how much!!

Another important realm that COP26 dealt with is the projection of “Loss and Damage.” Climate change is already a major issue. It has continuously been posing a threat to the earth’s biodiversity, lives, and livelihoods.

Many islands have been submerged beneath the rising tides, and water resources are becoming scarce in many places. To address this issue, certain countries that are more vulnerable to climate change-related catastrophes urged a finance facility supported by the developed countries that would cater to loss and damage due to climate change.

However, these fell flat, and instead, they ended up discussing loss and damage funding. Climate damage care is a double-edged sword where on the one hand, the countries have development agenda in their mind, and on the other hand, they are being asked to place their carbon reduction targets.

Countries meet at COP each year to achieve a set target but end up in negotiations. In its last-minute push, this year too, India expressed its inability to “phase-out” coal usage and instead negotiated for “phase down” of its use. This phase down would allow them time to shift to the usage of renewable energy.

India is the world’s third-largest carbon polluter and is also a growing economy. This is thus an indicator that the extent of expectation towards reduction in carbon emission will not be as desired because phase-down has no definite timeline.

As far as India is concerned, this will offset its attempt to become a net-zero nation ahead by 20years. This last-minute change weakened the pledge mitigation of climate-related crises and thus drew severe criticism on the international platform.

In summary, COP26 failed to address global climate concerns in terms of equity. Developed countries continue to enjoy first movers’ advantage, and the custom of putting the obligations towards environment cleaning on the developing countries was observed in this conference as well.

It thus makes us ponder - whether these meets make any difference to the prevalent climate threat or whether it is just another obligation year on year, yielding negligible output.

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