As over 190 world leaders and tens of thousands of government representatives, businesses and citizens gather at the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow this week and next, we unpack what to expect and delve into the latest climate science from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
1. What can we expect from COP26?
National leaders are being urged to take the necessary steps to reduce emissions, mobilize funding, and boost adaptation and resilience. Countries are also being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. To achieve these goals, developed countries will need to make good on their promise to mobilize at least $100bn in climate finance per year for developing countries by 2020. Public and private sector financial institutions will also need to provide the trillions required to secure global net zero.
Parties will discuss several articles of the Paris Agreement – which sets the target of keeping global warming this century to under 2°C – while pursuing efforts to keep it below 1.5°C. This includes finance, carbon markets, loss and damage, transparency and looking to wrap up important technical details of the “Paris Rulebook.”
2. What does UNEP hope to see achieved at the end of the climate talks?
UNEP hopes that COP26 will result in increased global action on three core policy areas: mitigation, adaption and finance. This means credible political commitment that leads to enhanced efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to climate change known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), along with agreement on critical technical issues, demonstrated movement by the private sector and financial commitments by public and private financial institutions.
3. Why is methane important?
UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2021: The Heat Is On released last week shows that methane is crucial for short-term climate action. This gas has a global warming potential of more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, making it a powerful heat trapper.
But it only stays in the atmosphere for 12 years, far less than carbon dioxide. In practice, this means reducing methane emissions can have a faster impact on reducing global warming and buy us some valuable time. Over 60 countries have joined the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. The report shows it is feasible to achieve this goal in the oil and gas, agriculture and waste sectors at low or no cost.
4. What are the key findings of UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2021?
This annual UNEP report highlights the difference between where greenhouse emissions are predicted to be in 2030 based on current government commitments and where they need to be to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement.
The report shows that the NDCs are insufficient or fall short. Current commitments put the world on track for a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. The report also finds that the new and updated NDCs introduced by 120 countries on 30 September 2021 will only take 7.5 per cent off predicted 2030 emissions, while a 55 per cent reduction is needed to meet the 1.5°C targets. Net-zero commitments could help and could take a further 0.5°C off the 2.7°C.
5. Is it too late? Can anything be done?
It is not too late. But as Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, says: “It is no longer a future problem. It is a now problem… The clock is ticking loudly.”
To stand a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, the next eight years will be crucial. Greenhouses gases need to be halved. In practice, this means, on top of the new NDCs, a further 28 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GTCO2e) of annual emissions must be reduced. An annual drop in emissions of 13 GtCO2e is needed to limit the temperature rise to 2°C.
6. What would a temperature rise of over 2.7°C mean for the planet?
Any temperature increase approaching 2.7°C would be a disaster for humanity and many of the planet’s species. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), even an increase of 2°C would have a major impact on food, security and human health.
Insects, vital for pollination of crops and plants, are likely to lose half their habitat at 1.5°C. This becomes twice as likely at 2°C. The frequency and intensity of droughts, storms and extreme weather events will rise with every increment in temperature – as we are already seeing with a global temperature increase over pre-industrial levels of around 1.2°C.
7. Did COVID-19 help reduce emissions?
Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic did lead to a 5.4 per cent global drop in CO2 in 2020, but it was a temporary reduction. In 2021 levels are predicted to be only slightly lower than the record high of 2019, pushing the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to the highest it has been in the last two million years.
Worryingly, only 17-19 per cent of pandemic economic recovery, $438 billion out of $2.28 trillion, is being used for green recovery and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Of the green recovery, 90 per cent comes from seven countries, which needs to be expanded.
8. How can net-zero pledges help plug the emissions gap?
The Emissions Gap Report 2021 shows that the updated NDCs and other mitigation pledges for 2030 give a 66 per cent chance of hitting a global temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. If implemented effectively and reflected in NDCs, net-zero pledges can take 0.5°C off the 2.7°C, coming closer to the 2°C goal of the Paris Agreement.
UNEP is at the front in support of the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2°C, and aiming – to be safe – for 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, UNEP has developed a Six-Sector Solution. The Six Sector Solution is a roadmap to reducing emissions across sectors in line with the Paris Agreement commitments and in pursuit of climate stability. The six sectors identified are Energy; Industry; Agriculture and Food; Forests and Land Use; Transport, and Buildings and Cities.