Examining the Cop26 Deal and Its Attendant Effect on Mitigating Climate Change

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By Onyinkolade Akinleye

1.0 INTRODUCTION

Climate change has become a widespread topic in recent years. Changes in climate have significant implications for present lives, for future generations and for ecosystems on which humanity depends. Consequently, climate change has been and continues to be the subject of intensive scientific research and public debate.

1.1 What is Climate Change?

Climate is sometimes mistaken for weather. However, climate is different from weather because it is measured over a long period of time, whereas weather can change from day to day, or from year to year.

Climate change is the long-term alteration of temperature and typical weather patterns in a place. Climate change could relate to a particular location or the entire planet. Climate change causes weather patterns to be less predictable. These unexpected weather patterns  in turn make it difficult to maintain and grow crops in regions that rely on farming because of the irregularity of the weather. Climate change is also related to other damaging weather events such as more frequent and more intense hurricanes, floods, downpours, and winter storms.

The cause of current climate change is largely human activities,  such as burning fossil fuels, flaring natural gas, oil production, and burning of coal. These activities release what are called greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere. There, these gases trap heat from the sun rays inside the atmosphere causing Earth’s average temperature to rise. Examples of greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change include carbon dioxide and methane. These come from using gasoline for driving a car or coal for heating a building, for example. Energy, industry, transport, buildings, agriculture, and land use are among the main emitters. This rise in the planet’s temperature is called global warming. The warming of the planet impacts local and regional climates. Throughout Earth’s history, climate has continually changed. When occurring naturally, this is a slow process that has taken place over hundreds and thousands of years.[1] The human influenced climate change that is happening now is occurring at a much faster rate.

This work seeks to examine the Climate Change summit held in Glasgow (“The Summit”), the agreement reached at the summit and its attendant effect on climate change  from a global perspective.

2.0 THE CLIMATE SUMMIT:

The Summit was held under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while COP26 (“COP”) stands for Conference of Parties, i.e., member nations of the UNFCCC. The Summit was the first since the COP 21, (the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris, France from 30 November to 12 December, 2015) that expected parties to make enhanced commitments towards mitigating climate change.

The United Nations climate science body: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), has come out with  series of reports[2] stating clearly that there needs to be drastic action this decade to cut emissions for the world to stand any chance of limiting climate change to manageable levels. For this to happen, nations need to show greater ambition to cut domestic emissions, and COP26 is being seen as a final chance for countries, especially big polluters like the US, UK, China, and the European Union (EU), to show that genuine progress is being made, beyond just rhetoric.

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The UN scientific body responsible for assessing climate risks, has warned in August that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels could soon be beyond reach, and that human activity is the “unequivocal” cause of climate change. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the report was “a code red for humanity.”[3]The Paris Agreement contained a ‘ratchet’ mechanism, by way of which, every 5 years, nations would have to increase the ambitions of their voluntary Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to cut emissions.[4]

After a summer of record-setting heat waves, hurricanes and forest fires across the mountainous region that borders the largest alpine lake in North America[5]and across regions in Canada, Asia, and Africa, public concern about climate change has reached an all-time high leading into the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

The COP is dedicated to discussing the mundane details of implementation of the existing agreements, but every five or six years, there is a major conference to try to forge an updated agreement.

3.0 EFFECT OF THE CLIMATE CHANGE DEAL

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been touted as a “make or break” moment for the planet. Global leaders have had a two-week attempt to hammer out details on how to move forward with concerted action to face climate change.

After intense deliberations by leaders from over 197 countries of the World on the pressing issues of climate change, the following can be said to be a sectioned summary of the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed by all 197 countries:

  • A step in a seemingly right direction

The Glasgow Climate Pact is incremental progress and not the breakthrough moment needed to curb the worst impacts of climate change. It is at best noted that although the stronger goal of the Paris Agreement is to “keep 1.5°C alive”, it is however nearly dead as anti-climate activities has further stretched the temperature of the earth.

The Paris Agreement says temperatures should be limited to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and countries should “pursue efforts” to limit warming to 1.5°C[6]. Before COP26, the world was on track for 2.7°C of warming, based on commitments by countries, and expectation of the changes in technology[7]. Announcements at COP26, including new pledges to cut emissions this decade, by some key countries, have reduced this to a best estimate of 2.4°C.[8]

It is interesting to note that more countries have announced long term net goals. Nigeria for instance, as noted by President Muhammed Buhari at the concluded COP26 summit, will cut its carbon emission to net zero by 2060.[9]

  • Current Inadequate National Climate Plan
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One major conclusion inferred from the summit is the recognition of the fact that there has not been an adequate national plan for climate change across the majority of the countries of the world. The COP26 has requested that countries come back next year with new updated plans.

Under the Paris Agreement, new climate plans are needed every five years. However, waiting for a concrete climate plan, in intervals of five years, will not be in the best interest of the climate situation in our world today.

  • Development of Goal Aimed at Achieving Fewer Emissions

Going into the Glasgow talks, most countries, including the United States, China and the 27 members of the European Union, declared new, more ambitious targets for reducing emissions. At the meeting, the host country itself, Britain,covered issues such as reversing deforestation, boosting electric vehicles, phasing out coal, clamping down on methane emissions and unlocking investor cash for the fight against climate change.[10] It is also observed that countries agreed to firmly focus on the most ambitious goal in the 2015 Paris accord, of keeping global warming from going beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius.

  • Climate Finance to Poor Countries

The failure to fulfil the pledge by the rich countries[11] to donate $100 billion each year by 2020, first made in 2009 and reaffirmed at the 2015 Paris climate talks, has been a source of deep frustration for developing countries.

The final agreement expressed “deep regret” about the funding failure and urges rich nations to come up with the money as soon as possible.

  • Carbon trading Rules

One of the biggest challenges in the fight against climate change is  cost. Carbon markets can help lower the bill, attract investment in clean innovation in developing countries and accelerate emissions cuts. The agreement in Glasgow set the rules for trading emissions in bilateral deals and in a United Nations-supervised marketplace. By some estimates it could be worth $100 billion. The idea is that countries where it’s difficult or expensive to cut greenhouse gases can buy credits representing emissions reductions from nations that already lowered pollution more than they pledged[12]. There’s also a possibility for public institutions and private companies to invest in projects that cut emissions in developing countries, where costs are usually lower. Such projects — for example replacing coal with renewable energy — would generate credits that can be traded further.

The rules covering what’s known as Article 6[13] will become increasingly important as countries and companies aim to cut their emissions to “net zero” by 2050 by balancing out any remaining pollution they produce with an equal amount of carbon captured elsewhere.

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Concerns have however, some countries and environmental groups raised as to the fact that the deal might have left significant loopholes which could undermine the integrity of the system by allowing certain emissions cuts to be counted twice and that, while the deal sets rules to avoid double-counting of emission cuts, implementing that will require scrutiny. It is not clear there is enough formal scrutiny in place.

4.0 Conclusion

The science of climate change is, at its heart, simple. When we emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, more heat gets trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, raising global temperatures, and destabilising the climate. And there is a need to curb this rapid increase of the earth’s temperature, hence  COP26. However, the question that begs to be answered is that, after two years of preparation and 13 days of tough discussions and cross-fertilization of ideas, can it be said that the negotiators at the summit have saved the planet? The answer is not totally in the affirmative, although they were hardly expected to do so. The annual Conference of the Parties, just held for the 26th time, is all about getting countries to gradually ratchet up their measures to defuse global warming.

The focus of the Glasgow talks was not to forge a new treaty but to finalise the one agreed to in Paris six years ago and to build on it by further curbing greenhouse gas emissions, bending the temperature curve closer to levels that don’t threaten human civilization. Just as environmentalists, concerned groups and individuals have prior stressed and continued advocating, it behoves on us all to ensure that our planet is safe, secure, and healthy. We do our bit to ensure that every measure to be possibly taken should be taken to ensure the well-being of our planet, and our leaders must indeed show leadership by doing all within their legitimate authority to see to it that climate justice is achieved.

Oyinkolade is a lawyer based in Lagos, Nigeria

Footnotes

[1] National Geographic Community on Climate Change, https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/climate-change, accessed 16 November, 2021

 

[2] UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme – Emissions Gap Report 2020, https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2020 accessed 16 November 2021

[3] https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cop26-51186 accessed 17 November 2021

[4] The Paris Agreement”unfccc.int.

[5] https://news.yahoo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-cop-26-the-un-climate-change-conference-in-glasgow-scotland-090013059.html accessed 16 November 2021

[6] Article 2 (1) (a) of the Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf accessed 17 November 2021

[7] UNEP – United Nations Environment Programme – Emissions Gap Report 2020, https://www.unep.org/emissions-gap-report-2020 accessed 17 November 2021

[8] https://climateactiontracker.org/global/temperatures/ accessed 17 November 2021

[9] COP26: Nigeria will cut carbon emission to net zero by 2060, Buhari says (premiumtimesng.com) accessed 17 November 2021

[10] https://apnews.com/article/climate-science-business-poland-scotland accessed 17 November 2021

[11] the likes of USA, UK, China, etc

[12] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-11-13/cop26-finally-set-rules-on-carbon-markets-what-does-it-mean?utm_campaign=mb&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_source=morning_brew accessed 17 November 2021

[13] Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf accessed 17 November 2021

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