COP26: what is a climate conference for?

► Why a new COP?

From 1er on November 12, under the auspices of the UN, more than 190 countries met in Glasgow, Scotland, for a new climate conference. This is the 26e “COP”, which this year is chaired by the United Kingdom, in partnership with Italy. The “COP” is the acronym for the “Conference Of the Parties” to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The challenge: to work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which lead to the warming of the atmosphere and the disruption of the global climate.

This “Convention” is one of the three adopted at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. The UNFCCC brings together 197 “parties” (countries or groups of countries such as the European Union) and organized its first COP in 1995, in Berlin, Germany. We must speak of a “climate COP” because there are other COPs linked to the two other Rio conventions: the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.

► Why is COP26 particularly important?

On December 12, 2015, during COP21 in France, member states adopted the Paris Agreement, a historic text. For the first time, almost all the countries of the world have jointly committed to limiting global warming to 2 ° C by the end of the century – and if possible to 1.5 ° C. The agreement provides that, every five years, its members review their emissions reduction roadmap. The idea? Progress in stages, collectively, on a difficult path. According to the UN, to contain the increase in temperature to 1.5 ° C, global CO emissions should be reduced2 45% by 2030 (compared to 2010). A huge challenge.

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We are at the end of the first 5-year cycle – six years in reality, because Covid obliges, COP26 has been postponed by a year. The “parties” to the UNFCCC are therefore required to present a much more ambitious roadmap this year than in the past. In UN jargon, they are called “NDCs”, “nationally determined contributions”, which outline the commitments of each state for 2030 (1). But the account is not there at all: in mid-September 2021, the UN compiled the NDCs received and noted that the warming trajectory was still at 2.7 ° C in 2100, very far from 1.5 ° C … Admittedly, the report notes “A clear trend towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions over time” ; but above all it calls on States to “Redouble efforts”.

► Who participates in the COP?

In Glasgow, we expect a very diverse audience. And hybrid, as at each COP, which is symbolized by the two places where the summit is hosted: a “blue zone”, at the Scottish event campus, and a “green zone”, at the Glasgow science center. In the first, heads of state and government and their delegations: it is the heart of the COP’s reactor, where negotiations and major meetings are held. There are also intergovernmental agencies – for example development banks -, NGOs, the media, etc. Some people will play a key role there, such as Alok Sharma, former British Secretary of State for Industry and Energy, now President of COP26.

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The second zone is designed as a platform for the general public: it will host youth organizations, civil society, academics, businesses, artists, who will be able to participate in workshops, exhibitions and events. conferences.

► What happens in concrete terms for two weeks?

The negotiations carried out at COP26 concern first of all the Paris Agreement. Six years after COP21, there are still crucial points to be clarified concerning the rules for its implementation. This is called the “Rule book”. Two issues focus attention. On the one hand, article 6 on carbon markets. There is a need to avoid double counting, but also to ensure the environmental integrity of trade – if Brazil sells carbon credits based on the Amazon rainforest, it must be ensured that the latter is well managed. On the other hand, the rules of transparency. Today, “The NDCs have no common rules, each one does a little as he wants”, notes the energy consultant, Stéphane His. This poses difficulties in comparing the concrete action of States, in particular.

However, the COP is not just about these negotiations. “It is also a high-level summit, which plays a role of political accelerator”, underlines Lola Vallejo, climate manager at IDDRI (Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations). Logically, the famous NDCs will be an issue: States which have shown themselves to be cautious in their commitments will have to answer to the collective of the COP; and in this regard, “The role of the press and civil society is very important to create an echo chamber and put pressure on the leaders”, continues Lola Vallejo. Australia, which has recently experienced mega-fire, is part of the OECD and has all the potential to develop renewables, could thus find it difficult to justify its still very pro-coal position …

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Finally, the COP serves to move forward sector by sector, forming coalitions on a wide variety of subjects. In this regard, the British Presidency encourages dialogues called “Fact” (forest, agriculture years commodity trade), bringing together exporters and importers of products involved in deforestation – such as palm oil – around the same table to find solutions together. “These initiatives could then lead to reconsidering certain trade rules”, suggests the IDDRI researcher, for whom “This painstaking work, all these coalitions, especially companies, play a very important role in a COP”.

► Why does the financial aspect hold a crucial place at the COP?

The mobilization of global finance is one of the objectives declared by the British presidency. Several levers are in play. First of all, that of solidarity: the commitment of developed countries to pay 100 billion dollars per year, from 2020, to countries of the South to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. still not honored. According to the OECD, the global amount of this climate finance reached 79.6 billion in 2019. In Glasgow, the countries of the South will not fail to use the forum of the COP to assert their rights.

The other lever is that of more responsible finance, essential to transform our economies. “Banks, insurers, investors and other financial companies” must commit to “Align their investments and loans with carbon neutrality” in 2050, insists the presidency of the COP26. Okay on paper. But what exactly is “green” finance? “We are far from having a common language in this area, remarks Stéphane His. France considers nuclear power to be green, for example. China defends its “clean coal”. These heated discussions will also cross the meeting rooms of the Scottish event campus.

→ VIDEO. What is a COP?


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