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Reducing CO2 emissions - will COP 26 help?


COP26 – the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – will be held in Glasgow during November 2021 and hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy. Delegates will address the extent to which world leaders have achieved the aims of the Paris Agreement and set new targets for the coming years. So how effectively will COP26 help reduce carbon emissions?

COP26 goals

COP26 goals are ambitious and set out to achieve the following: 

  • Global net-zero by mid-century keeping 1.5 0C within reach. 
  • Protect communities and natural habitats. 
  • Mobilise finance.
  • Work together to deliver climate goals. 

However, will this help limit CO2 emissions to the level necessary to avoid exceeding global warming of 1.5 0C as set out in the Paris Agreement, given that middle and low-income countries are unlikely to participate fully in the necessary green transformation?

Necessary technology

While we still have some way to go, the technologies needed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 are feasible and economically worthwhile. Different regions are affected differently by climate change, and some countries emit far more greenhouse gases than others. As a result, there is no consensus on how to share the costs of limiting climate change equitably.

However, the upside is that the costs of renewables have fallen significantly, and new green technologies are providing new opportunities to cut emissions. Thus, the fundamentals necessary for COP26 to deliver are achievable.

Countries are out of step

If all the countries marched to the speed at which the UK is approaching net-zero, we could be more confident of COP26's success, but unfortunately, that is not the case. Instead, different countries are moving at significantly different speeds.

Looking at advanced economies, Europe is at the forefront of transformation while the United States is raising its game under Biden's leadership. Although there is an underlying anti-green sentiment in the United States, it has an enormous capacity for green technology and could readily catch up with Europe. Other rich countries such as Japan and Canada are in a similar situation to the United States.

The situation with poorer countries is very different. Not only do they suffer more from the effects of climate change, but they are also ill-equipped to afford the necessary measures to reduce emissions. While they need financial help from more prosperous nations, their emission levels are collectively too low to significantly impact total global emissions.

EMDEs hold the key

The key to the success of COP26 lies with emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs), including China. In these nations CO2 emissions are increasing rather than declining and already contribute two-thirds of global emissions. China alone contributes 30%. 

To some extent, China can be let off the hook. The country aims to be a world leader in exporting green technologies and has adequate economic resources to finance the transition to a green economy. Additionally, the country would suffer enormously from the impact of climate change, thus benefiting significantly from cutting its own emissions.

However, other EDMEs remain hooked on carbon. They lack the finance to embark on greener trajectories and are unlikely to benefit from grants from richer countries to boost green developments. The economies of India, South Africa, Indonesia, and other EDMEs rely on coal.

So what must COP26 do?

So what can COP26 do to alleviate these blocks to mitigating climate change? The only realistic solution is to make sufficient resources available for these EDMEs to decommission their coal-based economies and replace them with greener solutions. Unless this can be achieved in the medium term, the planet is set on a collision path with disaster. See my blog article on the recent IPCC AR6 report for more insight into this.

The answer to the question "Reducing CO2 emissions - will COP26 help?" is yes, COP26 can help. But keeping global warming below 2 0C is unrealistic whatever the rich nations do unless we get the EDMEs on board.

Photograph credit: Thanks to Euan Cameron on Unsplash for the photograph.

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