The COP26 international climate conference will begin Sunday in Glasgow, where President BidenJoe BidenMadame Tussauds unveils new Biden and Harris figures US raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats MORE and other world leaders will meet in the hope of reaching a deal on new initiatives to reduce climate change.
It’s the first global climate conference in two years after last year’s summit was canceled due to COVID-19, and comes as fears about the warming planet are growing.
“The COP is also really important because it comes after we have had such sobering reports from the intergovernmental panel on climate change on how far we are from achieving the goals that we need to avoid dangerous climate change,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, who served as a climate negotiator during the Obama administration.
“We’ve got this incredible sense of urgency of what has to happen in the next decade before 2030,” she said.
Most countries have upped their global commitments, but the world is still projected to fall short of the goal from a climate agreement reached in Paris to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius when compared to pre-industrial levels.
A United Nations report last week found that countries’ proposed plans for emissions cuts would put the world on track for 2.7 degrees of warming by the end of the century.
At the summit, nations will try to complete Paris Agreement rules surrounding carbon offset markets.
Experts say good rules are necessary to prevent double counting as countries and companies seek to reach “net-zero” emissions by taking actions meant to reduce or offset emissions.
“Right now, some countries like Brazil want to be able to count reductions within Brazil as part of their national commitment of reductions, but if another country or a company or those of us buying offsets...are claiming those reductions as offsets for our own emissions, then they shouldn’t be counted by the national government in the country where they happen,” said Haverkamp, who is now a professor at the University of Michigan.
The Glasgow meetings are not expected to end with a treaty, but the hope is to finish the rules for implementing the Paris agreement.
“One of the risks of COP26 is that it’s being built up to be this important moment for ambition, which it is, but we’re not signing a new treaty here,” said Kelley Kizzier, a former European Union climate negotiator.
“We have the Paris Agreement and it’s durable, so we’re adding to it and adding momentum and adding calls to action,” added Kizzier, who now works for the Environmental Defense Fund.
World leaders are expected to join either in person — like Biden — or remotely, like Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' MORE.
The event is an opportunity for Biden to demonstrate U.S. leadership after former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE pulled the country out of the Paris deal.
Yet Biden will arrive having taken less action on climate that the White House had hoped, as Congress has yet to take action on his climate proposals. Opposition from members of Biden’s own party has also killed some action Biden hoped to take as part of his social spending and climate agenda.
The conference will seek to take on other issues as well, including ocean resilience, youth climate action and improving sustainability in agriculture and rural policy.
High-level national statements from the assembled heads of state are expected to come in two parts, with the first taking place on Monday and Tuesday, and the next the following week.
There have been concerns about holding the conference during the pandemic. In September, more than 1,500 groups called for a delay, saying unequal international access to vaccines made it impossible for poorer nations to safely send delegations.
In a statement in September, Climate Action Network Executive Director Tasneem Essop said moving ahead with the summit would play into the very inequities it is meant to address.
“There has always been an inherent power imbalance within the UN climate talks, between rich nations and poorer nations, and this is now compounded by the health crisis,” Essop said. “This issue of participation at COP26 is a microcosm of the larger patterns of global injustice and exclusion that we see playing out.”
The summit did make vaccines available to delegations that would have not been able to get them in their home countries, but it is also requiring participants from certain countries to quarantine.
Meanwhile, many of the countries set to participate in the summit have also said an across-the-board commitment to net-zero emissions would be contradictory to its equity goals. In a joint statement last week, ministers from 21 developing and recently-industrialized countries said a worldwide net-zero commitment would represent a “shift[ing of] the goalposts of the Paris Agreement.”
“Demands for ‘Net zero’ emissions for all countries by 2050 will exacerbate further the existing inequities between developed and developing countries,” they wrote. "This new ‘goal’ which is being advanced runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against climate justice."
Signers of the statement noted that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has itself pointed to historical activity dating back to the Industrial Revolution, when industrialization kicked into high gear for wealthier western nations, as the main driver of climate change.
Nations represented in the statement included China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam.
While China is the world’s number-one emitter of greenhouse gases, it underwent industrialization far more recently than the U.S., the number-two emitter. China’s emissions are projected to peak by 2030.