22 April 2021 is International Mother Earth Day, an opportunity to promote public awareness of the challenges which our planet faces.
Climate change is widely accepted as being one of the environmental challenges which needs to be tackled in our lifetime. In response to increasing public calls for a more sustainable future, Westminster has made promises such as the delivery of a "green industrial revolution" and to "build back greener".
As part of the United Kingdom's commitment to taking action on climate change, the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties ("COP26") will take place in Glasgow in November of this year.
But what is COP26 and what can we expect in November 2021?
What is COP26?
COP26 will be attended by the leaders of the countries which signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCCC"). The UNFCCC was superseded by the Paris Agreement, which entered into force in 2016.
COP26 will be hosted in partnership between the UK and Italy and has been described as the biggest climate event since the Paris Agreement.
What is on the agenda for COP26?
The last Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP25, was held in Madrid in November 2019. Whilst a success in some respects, it has been criticised for leaving key areas unresolved. It is these areas which will be the focus of COP26.
Reaching consensus on the rules for carbon markets will be a crucial discussion point at COP26. Carbon markets act as a framework through which parties can trade emissions units, enabling parties to offset their own emissions.
The rules for the operation of carbon markets has been the subject of debate in past conferences, however negotiations have broken down and there will be a focus on reaching a robust compromise at COP26. In particular, countries will want to ensure that carbon markets are not used simply as an offsetting tool but instead lead to overall emissions reductions.
Adaptation Goal and Loss & Damage
Following discussions at COP25, the Adaptation Committee produced a technical report on how countries can enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The recommendations of the report will be the subject of discussion at COP26.
Alongside this is the concept of Loss & Damage for funding beyond adaptation in situations in which it is no longer possible to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Following COP25, the Santiago Network for Loss & Damage ("SNLD") was established through which technical assistance could be offered to countries whose land has suffered irreversible damage due to climate change. At COP26, the implementation of SNLD is expected to be developed so that parties are able to access Loss & Damage compensation.
Public finance for climate action will also be the subject of discussion at COP26. Global cooperation is required in order to achieve the targets set by the Paris Agreement, and it has been agreed at past conferences that financial aid should be made available by wealthier countries to 'developing' countries to enable progress in a way which is not harmful to the environment. At COP26, reassurance will be sought that these funding commitments are upheld.
In order to secure meaningful progress by the international community at COP26, it is imperative that agreement is reached on these climate issues.
Will COP26 be going ahead?
There have been suggestions that COP26 should be postponed again due to growing concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. A further delay is considered unacceptable to certain parties given the urgency of the climate emergency. Whilst a move towards a virtual event could provide a solution, there are also concerns attached to this approach due to the need for COP26 to be fully inclusive and transparent.
Whilst the UK Government has stated that there are 'no plans' to postpone COP26, the situation will continue to unfold in the months leading up to November 2021.
Whether or not COP26 goes ahead, international action on climate change must continue to progress if we are to truly "build back greener". International Mother Earth Day is a timely reminder of the importance of staying informed of environmental issues.
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