Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26



By Sophie Gebray, Halal Incorp

What is COP26?

Watch live: full coverage of the COP26 summit

UN Climate Change Reports: Discover More

For the last 26 years, the United Nations has held an annual climate change conference & this year (2021) it was held at the SEC Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. The event, namely COP26, ran for 14 days from 31 October to 13 November. From world leaders & their officials to NGOs, activists & private companies, the event had 25,000 people in attendance from 197 countries around the world. COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties & to commensurate the 26th year of this conference.

The president of the conference was UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma & attendees included The Queen & The Pope.

What was the goal & purpose of COP26? To produce an international response to the climate crisis.

These meetings have been happening for almost 3 decades & COP26 is the biggest climate event since the Paris Agreement (COP21) in 2015. The Paris Agreement was the first time ever that almost every country on Earth agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees, aiming for 1.5 degrees. The agreement is legally binding & for the first time, we had a contract which bound countries together towards a clear goal.

To reach 1.5 degrees, the agreement states that we would need net zero emissions globally by the second half of this century. Net zero emissions would require that the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is the same as the amount removed from our atmosphere.

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

The significance of 1.5 degrees

For 2.5 million years, the Earth’s climate has fluctuated from ice ages to warmer periods – the contraction & expansion of hot temperatures has long been a natural phenomenon. In the last century, however, the planet’s temperature has risen unusually fast.

Scientists believe that it is human activity which is driving the Earth’s temperature to increase – this process is called global warming. Since the industrial revolution began, factories, power plants & eventually vehicles have burned fossil fuels such as oil & goal.

When burning these fossil fuels, huge amounts of carbon dioxide & other gases are released into the atmosphere. These gases then trap heat near the Earth through a naturally occurring process known as the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect allows for heat from the Sun to be trapped in the atmosphere which allows living organisms to feel warmth even during the night.

Therefore, we require a balanced amount of greenhouse gases within our atmosphere to survive & thrive. However, this greenhouse effect is now being intensified by our human activity, thus resulting in the rapid increase of the globe’s overall temperature.

Currently, the average land & ocean surface temperature across the globe is 1.76 degrees F / 0.98 of a degree C warmer (2021) than the 20th century average. This is 2.14°F (1.19°C) warmer than the pre-industrial period (1880 – 1900).

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

What is meant by the Paris Agreement “increase of 1.5°C” describes the ambition to keep within a 1.5°C increase when compared to pre-industrial times. As you can see, we are already at 1.19°C. The 1.5°C increase limit was agreed by the world in an attempt to slow down & perhaps eventually reverse some of the damage caused to the planet through human activity.

The bleak & troubling truth is that even at this level of increase, much damage would have been done to the planet, much of it even irreversible. To truly understand the severity & complexity of the climate crisis, let us look to answer the following questions:

At 1.19°C, what does our Earth currently look like?

What could we expect at a 1.5°C increase (i.e., our global goal)?

Why would a 2°C increase be catastrophic for the planet?

Planet Earth Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

At 1.19°C, what does our Earth currently look like?

Climate change has already had some effects on the world around us. Glaciers have shrunk & ice on rivers & lakes has begun to break up earlier. This loss of sea ice has accelerated sea level rises. In June 2020, eastern Siberia reached 38°C – this is the hottest ever recorded in the Arctic Circle.

It is critical to appreciate that everything is interconnected; in July 2021, at least 120 people died in western Europe due to flash floods. Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg & Switzerland have all been affected by devastating flooding as a result of climate change.

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

With the increase of temperatures globally, we have also witnessed more heat waves & droughts. Heat waves are episodes of extreme hot weather which can have a duration ranging from days to weeks. This was felt by the Canadians in June 2021 where dozens passed away due to unprecedented hot weather. The life-threatening effects of climate change aren’t a possibility to be debated at COP26; they are real time events which only have the potential to become worse & more frequent.

What could we expect at a 1.5°C increase (i.e., our global goal)?

Higher temperatures result in the world’s ice melting which causes the seas to expand. At 1.5°C, small-island states & low-lying countries are given a fighting chance. Warming of 1.5°C would still destroy at least 70% of coral reefs; we would see the extinction of billions of species which inhabit our oceans & seas. We would also observe 6% of insects disappear. This is the best outcome for our planet given the amount of damage already caused to our Earth via human activity. 6% of insects would disappear.

Why would a 2°C increase be catastrophic for the planet?

Warming of 2°C would see a bigger share of insects and animals lose most of their habitat range, compared with 1.5°C. We would instead observe 18% of insects wiped from existence & as much as >99% of coral reefs disappear. There will also be an increase to the risk of forest fires, further adding risk to the lives of wildlife. Past 2°C, the ice sheets would be expected to collapse & flooding would be frequent, widespread & catastrophic to the lives of tens of millions of people around the world.

Warming of 2.7°C would deliver extreme warmth for segments of the year particularly in regions such as the tropics and subtropics. This would result in biodiversity becoming enormously depleted. There would be an increased risk of crop failures in a couple of the breadbaskets of the world at the same time.

We would observe extreme food price spikes, subsequently followed by hunger and famine across wide regions of the world. Not only would food security drop but we would also experience extreme weather which would exceed most urban infrastructure’s capacity to cope.

Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

It is in the best interest of everyone & everything in the world to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. The UN has also stated, without drastic action, the world is on course to breakthrough this 1.5°C target within a decade. COP26 has thus been described as the “make or break” climate summit. In contrast with COP21, COP26 has demanded specific outlines of the kind of action each of the 197 countries will take to tackle this climate crisis.

Crucially, at the Paris Agreement, countries did not have to specify how exactly what they would do to meet their commitments. At COP26, countries had to submit their plans, known as NDC’s – Nationally Determined Contributions. The success of the conference will be judged by how ambitious & binding these plans are & how these commitments are fulfilled in the next, most crucial years.

We have discussed how COP26 truly is the world’s last best hope to limit global warming. Let us now evaluate the plans & ambitions submitted by the world’s biggest players.

Landscape Photography of Cooling Tower Climate Change UN Report & Cop 26

Who are the biggest players?

In order to tackle the climate crisis, we must see change from the world’s greatest emitters of CO2. China is the world’s largest contributing country towards emissions at 28% (c. 2018), followed by the US at 15% (c.2018) & India at 7% (c. 2018). Burning coal causes large amounts of CO2 emissions. Let us now investigate how these superpowers of the world responded at COP26.

CHINA – Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, did not attend COP26 in person or via video link. Despite this, china’s chief climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua was present. In September, Jinping announced that China will aim for carbon neutrality by 2060. This is to be contrasted with China’s refusal at COP26 to join an agreement to limit methane emissions, which is a harmful greenhouse gas. China has instead opted for a “national plan” to combat its production of methane. This can be concerning when China chooses to stand alone & tackle the climate crisis as it dictates necessary, separate to the input or considerations of other countries.

However, in a surprise announcement at COP26, China & the US have agreed to boost climate co-operations over the next decade. This suggests that agreements could be found for the sake of the planet between these two infamously rivalled countries.

INDIA – At COP26, we saw China, India & other countries such as Australia & South Africa struggle to agree to the “phase out” of coal. Over the 14 days, many drafts of the COP26 agreement were produced. The final draft was amended & then published to describe efforts to “phase down” coal instead of “phase out”.

These changes were largely a result of pressure from India & China who rely heavily on the coal industry. On November 13th, the last day of COP26, Alok Sharma apologised for the disappointment at these changes. The finalised pledges fall short of what is required to respect the 1.5°C limit. India’s insist for a watering down of the pledge from “phase out” to “phase down”, we can see the complexity of the climate crisis when considering global economies.

US – Under the Trump presidency, the US had withdrawn from the Paris Agreement as Trump believed it would undermine the economy of the US. In contrast, under Joe Biden, the US returned to the Paris Climate Accord hours after being elected. Biden attended COP26 & prompted a co-operation with China, the other superpower of the globe, in cutting CO2 emissions. With regards to dealing with climate change at home, Biden recognises that the American people “haven’t always been sure whether climate change is real”. When presenting his plan to tackle the climate crisis to members of the US, he said he will frame it around jobs.

Disclaimer: The views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of Halal Incorp

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