During the negotiations leaders are using a lot of technical terms. Here’s our guide to the key terms for understanding what’s at stake.
Our earlier article posed the question in its title, 'COP26: A critical global summit for flooding due to climate change?' and we will reflect on this at the end of the summit.
Meanwhile COP26 has begun and leaders are under close scrutiny as they discuss climate change. Six years after the Paris Agreement, mixed feelings and failed commitments highlight more than ever the need for a new meaningful agreement. Hopes and expectations are high after a summer dominated by flood events and forest fires.
COP 26’S GOALS
After negotiating the Paris Agreement in 2015, world leaders agreed to update their plans every five years. COP26 has four main goals.
- To secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep the 1.5 within reach.
- To adapt and protect communities and natural habitats.
- To mobilise at least $100 billion in climate finance per year.
- To work together to tackle the challenges of the climate crisis.
COP 26 TERMINOLOGY
The term ‘net-zero emissions’ refers to achieving an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and those taken out of the atmosphere. It means that we can still produce emissions, as long as they are offset by processes that reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
It can be achieved by reducing our current emissions, or by removing as much greenhouse from the atmosphere as what’s emitted. It can be done by planting new forests, or drawdown technologies like direct air capture. Reducing emissions is important to reduce global warming and maintain the 1.5-degree target set during C0P21.
Dozens of countries have already pledged to achieve this target by 2050, the last one to date being Australia. Hence, there is huge pressure on countries that have not yet to do so by COP26.
Private companies, such as Ambiental, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV, are also committed to supporting the re-engineering of our economies for net-zero. Royal HaskoningDHV has signed up to the Pledge to Net Zero – which aligns to COP26 goals. The company’s corporate vision to Enhance Society Together means we seek to deliver net gains in safety, well-being, resources, and environmental benefit in every project.
More about how Royal HaskoningDHV is catalysing action on climate change here on their website
With the atmosphere warning up every year, net zero-emission is not enough to stop the effects of climate change. Achieving negative emissions would mean removing more greenhouse gas from the atmosphere than exist at a given period of time. It can be achieved either by using carbon sinks or carbon capture and storage technology.
Carbon sinks are reservoirs that absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Natural sinks, such as trees and other vegetations, remove CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. They consume carbon dioxide to grow. Another natural carbon sink is the ocean. Preserving natural sinks is essential to reduce emissions.
Artificial carbon sinks are known as carbon capture and storage technology. Carbon is usually captured at the source, but technology is being developed to remove carbon from the air. Once stored, carbon is buried in underground reservoirs or below the floor of the sea. Scientists warned about the risks of burying so much carbon underground, hence its application is limited.
NATIONALLY DETERMINED CONTRIBUTIONS (NDCs)
NDCs refers to each country’s individual national plan to reduce national emission and adapt to the impacts of climate change. One weakness of the 2015 Paris Agreement was that it gave countries the freedom to determine how they would meet the agreement’s targets. NDCs are updated every five years and submitted to the UN. Many countries failed to do so ahead of COP26.
Pre-industrial levels refer to the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere at any period of time before the start of the industrial revolution. Scientists also use the term to talk about pre-industrial levels for average temperatures. The key goal of the COP26 is to reaffirm the 1.5 degrees target.
The Paris Agreement was established to limit the increase in global temperatures to under 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees. COP26 is decisive when it comes to this objective. Reports from the UN intergovernmental panel on Climate Change warned that the world has warmed by 1.1 since pre-industrial levels.
One of the goals of COP26 is to pledge to raise funds for climate finance. Countries pledged to transfer money to developing countries to help them limit their greenhouse gas emissions. During COP16, parties set up the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to facilitate this transfer.
The goal was to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 for climate finance. Yet, this target was missed in 2020, and filling the gap is high on the agenda for COP26. In 2015, under the Paris Agreement, developed country Parties committed $100bn in finance to help developing countries limit their greenhouse gas emissions. However, every year since then, they have never yet reached that target. Many countries are expecting commitments to be reaffirmed in Glasgow.
ADAPTATION / MITIGATION
One of the aims of COP26 is to provide solutions to adapt to a changing climate. For example, by building early warning systems for floods or barriers against rising sea levels. Recent events in Europe showed that climate disasters are already on the rise, hence the need for more adaptive measures.
To help mitigate climate change, the role of private companies is crucial. Technologies developed by Ambiental to identity and mitigate the risk of flooding and the potential impact of climate change are essential to support COP26’s goals.
Other actions are also possible, from using oil and gas more efficiently to increasing renewables energy capacities. One of the principles defended during COP26 is that measures taken to combat climate change should be fair to everyone. The transition needs to be coupled with measures protecting vulnerable countries and populations.
Recent floods events in Europe highlighted the need for more climate action. As consequences of climate change are more and more prominent, COP26 presents an opportunity to act. The next two weeks will determine the future consequences of climate change and assess world leaders’ commitment to tackle climate change, and their desire to prevent future natural catastrophes.
- COP26 Glossary, WWF, 2021, Available at: https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2021-09/COP26_Glossary.pdf
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