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Preparing for COP26

A recent PPP and Diplomat magazine event revealed that if COP26 is going to be a success, we’ll have to start thinking about what happens after 12 November. Report by Elliot Gillings.

As the effects of climate change become only harsher and more apparent, the importance of COP26 is only growing more obvious. What may be less obvious, but equally important, is that COP26 can’t be a heroic last-stand against an encroaching climate crisis – it has to be the start of a total shift for the private and public sectors alike.

The most recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a startling, but inspiring, portrait of both climate change and our ability to deal with it. The report, which offers “the most up-to-date physical understanding of the climate system and climate change,” makes clear that recent extreme weather events that have set Turkish forests ablaze and flooded London tube stations are only due to become more frequent and more intense. It also makes clear, however, that we have the ability to do something about it.

In the words of University of Leeds climate physicist Piers Forster, the IPCC’s report offers us “much more certainty that if we get to net zero CO2 its contributions to further warming [are] also likely to stop.” For instance, according to the report the “deliberate removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere” could reverse “some aspects of climate change.” This is only possible, though, “if deliberate removals are larger than emissions.”

As such, while the spectre of more floods and wildfires looms, there is still hope – but only if we start acting now. The upcoming 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) thus arrives at a favourable time. Presenting a unique opportunity for global leaders in policymaking to co-operate with one another and form feasible and ambitious climate action strategies, COP26 may be our last and best chance to deal with climate change.

In recognition of its importance, PPP and Diplomat magazine recently hosted a webinar that invited experts along to discuss how ready we were for COP26, and what needed to be done in the days leading up to the conference. Led by speakers such as Matt Toombs (Director of Partnerships and Engagement in the COP26 unit of the UK Cabinet Office) and Amber Rudd (Former Home Secretary and Deputy Chair of Energy and Climate at PPP) the session discussed what was required from both organisers and attendees to make COP26 a success.

Recognising that in-person attendance will be crucial to facilitating the international co-operation that an event like COP26 is meant to be the impetus for, the organisers of the event “are exploring every possible COVID security measure.” As such, beyond working with Scottish government, Glasgow City Council, the UN and a myriad of other local authorities and health partners, the COP26 unit of the UK Cabinet Office is offering to vaccinate any delegates who have yet to get jabbed. Continued effort will be required to find solutions to the health challenges posed by a gathering as large as COP26, but currently organisers seem to be on track to “deliver a safe, successful conference.”

For attendees, however, the task of making the most of COP26 is somewhat less complete. Currently, there are four main stated goals for the conference. These are to commit to limiting global warming to 1.5˚C, to promote the need for climate adaptability (i.e. protecting nature and communities from climate impacts), to increase financial support for ‘green’ projects, and to incorporate typically non-political groups and spaces into the efforts to achieve the COP goals. Achieving these ambitions, and positioning COP26 as the COP event that sets the “action pathway,” will rely on taking advantage of increased interest in dealing with climate change, which has been seen “not just from the industry, which to a certain extent you would expect, but from politicians across the world and from the general public.”

It is also important that COP26 seize on the momentum that has been generated in the five years since COP25. 70 per cent of the world economy is now committed to Net-Zero, an almost 40 per cent increase since the conference was last held in Paris. However, as Matt Toombs pointed out, there is no point in celebrating and resting on our laurels. “We need all countries to commit to global net zero,” and in order to do so we need to be more concerned about the 2030 targets and “the roadmap to get there.”

A similar outlook will also have to be adopted when considering technology’s role in dealing with climate change. While advances in renewables, artificial intelligence (AI), and electric vehicles (EVs) offer us hope, “it is paramount that we start to deal with the world as we find it and that the COP conversations are focused on reality.”  This means acknowledging that while “the cost of action has massively fallen in solar batteries, wind…” and other technologies, as we find ourselves in the midst of a multi-million year in CO2 levels, “the cost of inaction has risen as well.”

There are, as such, a number of things to be done before we can say we’re truly ready for COP26. Those things, importantly, all require long-term thinking and for policymakers, industry, and the general public to shift away from long-established approaches. As such, it’s not so much a matter of if we’re ready for COP26, but if we’re ready for what comes after.



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