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All Hands on Deck: Mobilizing our climate community for COP 26 and beyond

By Jane McDonald on October 25, 2021

In a matter of days, the global community will gather in Glasgow for the first UN climate conference since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Because no formal negotiations have taken place in the last two years, COP 26 is an important signal of whether the Paris Agreement can serve as an effective catalyst for countries to act together to keep a 1.5° Celsius pathway within reach. 

The list of issues before climate diplomats at COP 26 is long, and the stakes are high: the August report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made clear that without immediate and drastic cuts to greenhouse gases, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels in the next 20 years, causing widespread devastation.

Here are key deliverables IISD will be watching for at COP 26:

More Ambitious National Pledges 

When they arrive in Glasgow next month, all countries are now being urged to revise their national pledges in line with a 1.5° Celsius target, the lower of the two Paris temperature goals. Some countries have come forward with new targets, but major emitting countries, including Australia, China, and India, have yet to submit new pledges, and it is unknown if they intend to do so in Glasgow. 

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat analyzed the new pledges submitted as of the end of July 2021. The good news is that they represent a 12% decrease in emissions. The bad news is that the pledges may lead to a temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century.

There’s no time to lose. IISD has been following the current slate of COVID-19 recovery packages that governments have announced over the past year, and many are still allocating large sums of money to support oil, gas, and coal. New reports from organizations like the International Energy Agency and the Energy Transitions Commission lay out in detail how a cleaner path can be achieved.

Wealthy Countries Delivering on Climate Finance, Increasing Focus on Adaptation

Over 10 years ago, developed countries pledged to provide or mobilize USD 100 billion per year by 2020. That target has been missed. Current estimates by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show that USD 79.6 billion was provided or mobilized in 2019, roughly similar to 2018 levels. 

Developing countries have linked the provision of finance to the success of COP 26. They want to know that the money will be provided as soon as possible, paving the way for a new financial commitment that would expand the funds available beyond 2025. The recent announcement of a climate finance delivery plan published by the UK COP presidency and developed by top German and Canadian officials is already drawing close scrutiny ahead of the negotiations for its level of ambition, approach, and proposed timeframe. 

Developing countries have also long argued that adaptation should be given the same amount of consideration and funding as mitigation. According to the UN Environment Programme, annual adaptation costs alone in developing countries are expected to reach USD 140 billion to 300 billion per year by the end of the decade, going up to USD 280 billion to 500 billion by mid-century. Yet only about 25% of climate finance is going toward adaptation now.

IISD’s work with the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Global Network gives us a window into the demand for adaptation planning in developing countries. Almost three-quarters of nations have some adaptation plans in place, but financing to implement those plans is urgently needed. 

The global community also needs to advance guidance on measuring progress toward achieving the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), which is an important part of the Paris Agreement. By tracking collective progress toward the GGA, nations can keep tabs on what adaptation action and support are needed. 

A Focus on Nature-Based Solutions

This year’s COP presidency will also have an entire day dedicated to nature on November 6, and how negotiators treat the subject of nature in Glasgow will have implications for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD's) efforts to develop a post-2020 biodiversity framework, which they plan to endorse next year. Already, the research shows that incorporating both issues in countries’ national adaptation planning can lead to better outcomes, which is a lesson that both the climate COP and the CBD talks should take forward.

Ahead of COP 26, IISD has launched a new Nature-Based Infrastructure Global Resource Centre together with our partners, the Global Environment Facility, the MAVA Foundation, and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization. The new Centre will show how much money can be saved and crucial benefits gained by investing in nature to meet some of our global infrastructure needs, and we will conduct over 40 assessments of nature-based infrastructure projects through the Centre over the coming years. 

Solidarity in a Time of Uncertainty

A sense of solidarity in the face of international crises is also being tested by the pandemic, given the large disparities in vaccine distribution and access between countries. 

As we have learned from other negotiating processes that have had to operate online or in hybrid mode during the COVID-19 pandemic, this new virtual reality of international diplomacy leads to mixed results, and we are still learning how to navigate these challenges.

Even with the efforts of the U.K. government to facilitate vaccine access and quarantine costs for incoming participants, many delegations and observers are facing the prospect of not being able to participate in this year’s climate talks or being involved in only a minimal way. 

The pandemic also means there will be fewer participants representing the private sector, sub-national governments, civil society, and youth at this COP event. This is a loss, as these groups add a significant dynamism and urgency to the talks and help build the collective solidarity needed at this moment. 

Other international negotiations that hope to convene in person, such as the World Trade Organization with its upcoming ministerial conference this December, will be looking to see how the pandemic affects the COP 26 process and outcomes. 

That’s why IISD’s most important role at COP 26 is making sure that everyoneregardless of their ability to attendcan be up to date on where the negotiations are going and what they mean. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin team will be undertaking daily reporting and analysis throughout the conference, and they will also hold a halfway point webinar to take stock of the talks after the first week, answer questions, and show what remains at stake for the second and final week. 

This inclusion is crucial because the real test of Glasgow’s success will be the work that comes after, once negotiators return home. Domestic political realities often make it hard for international commitments to translate into action. However, as COVID-19 has taught us, our world can change nearly overnight, with devastating consequences. We must mobilize our whole community to act now to avert further damage tomorrow.