In November, the UK and Italy will jointly host COP26. An event that many believe is the last real opportunity to bring the devastating consequences of climate change under control.
COP26: the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference
COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”, with Parties referring to the nations that have ratified the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The 2021 event marks the 26th edition of the conference, which was first held in Berlin in 1995. Since then, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to becoming a global priority. Not only that, but the unprecedented situation experienced over the last 18 months makes this event a real point of no return in the history of the fight against climate change.
From the Paris Agreement to COP25: where do we stand?
COP21 was held in Paris in 2015. For the first time, something momentous happened: everyone agreed to work together to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. What’s more, the acceding countries committed to creating a national plan indicating the extent of their emission reductions, known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
More than five years have now passed since this agreement was signed and it’s time for the signatory countries to report on the situation. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.
Indeed, the last Conference of the Parties – COP25, hosted by the Chilean government and held in Madrid in December 2019 – ended in a stalemate. In particular, discussions about the rules of the emissions market (widely criticised for the distortions it generates), which had been central to the debate, remained unresolved and will therefore be one of the hot topics to be addressed in Glasgow this year.
Isn’t the objective of saving the planet shared by all?
While the overall objective of the conference – saving the planet – undoubtedly has the formal consensus of all parties, it’s clear that there are divisions among the participating countries on more specific issues. And since every decision has to be signed off by nearly 200 countries, each with its own structure and interests, the COP has always been a monumental, but fragile, machine.
It’s no surprise then that developing countries, which in many cases are the ones facing the most disastrous consequences of climate change, criticise the lack of solidarity on the part of those UNFCCC countries that “became prosperous through the untrammeled burning of fossil fuels”. On the other hand, it should be noted that – given the size of giants such as China or India – no measure can have a truly significant impact unless it involves the direct engagement of similar players.
What is certain is that COP26 will be one of the last opportunities to break the deadlock and find concrete and sustainable common ground.
2021, a landmark year in many ways
“Most experts believe that COP26 has a unique urgency”. This sentence on the conference website underlines the urgency attached to the decisions expected from this meeting. The intention is to increase the pressure on the participants to make a serious commitment to a change that can no longer be postponed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has become the most economically damaging event since World War II, but according to a December 2020 report by the UN’s independent experts on climate finance, the damage caused by climate change and the loss of biodiversity could be much more severe and long-lasting.
That’s why the pressure to make COP26 a game-changer is so strong.