The Road to COP26

United Kingdom

Berlin – Kyoto – Doha – Paris – Katowice – Madrid – Glasgow: The Road to COP26

This year from 9 – 20th November, Glasgow will host COP 26, the 26th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The conference will bring together over 30,000 delegates from all over the world to negotiate an international response to the climate emergency.

The UNFCC unites almost all the countries in the world in agreeing to adopt measures to combat climate change. The parties to the conference meet annually to agree their actions going forward and to assess the effectiveness of measures they have implemented to tackle climate change.

The COP takes place annually ever since the first COP, held in Berlin back in 1995. Key landmarks over the last 25 years include:

Kyoto Protocol (COP 3) – adopted in December 1997 and coming in to force in February 2005, the Kyoto Protocol committed 36 industrialised countries and the European Union to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with individual targets. It only bound developed countries due to the recognised principle that they are primarily responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The Kyoto Protocol also established a system for monitoring and verifying each party’s compliance.

Doha Amendment (COP 18) – in December 2012, the Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. The amendment included new commitments for parties for a second commitment period to be in force until 2020. The new commitments increased parties’ undertakings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 5 percent against 1990 levels to 18 percent against 1990 levels. Whilst 136 countries notified their acceptance of the Doha Amendment, it has not yet been formally ratified as ratification requires acceptance by at least three quarters of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol – being 144 acceptances.

Paris Agreement (COP 21) – the Paris Agreement entered into force in November 2016. It set a central objective to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to limit the global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while pursing means to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The aim is to achieve zero net emissions by the second half of the century. Each party to the Paris Agreement must submit “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outlining national climate action plans. These are required to be as ambitious as possible and are to be reviewed and tightened every five years. The Paris Agreement also includes a series of mandatory measures for the monitoring, verification, and public reporting of progress toward a country’s emissions-reduction targets. Developed country parties are also required to provide financial support to developing country parties, for climate change mitigation and adaption measures, in recognition of the fact that developing countries that have historically contributed the least to climate change could suffer the most from its consequences.

Katowice (COP 24)– in December 2018 at Katowice the COP agreed the guidelines (or “rulebook”) for implementing the Paris Agreement. The guidelines are known as the Katowice climate package and they set out the essential procedures and mechanisms required to make the Paris Agreement operational. The Katowice climate package contains guidance on how countries will provide information on their NDCs and describe their domestic climate action, including mitigation measures, adaptation measures and details for financial support for climate action in developing countries. The framework enabled countries to track and report progress. The Katowice climate package also included guidance on the process for establishing new targets on finance from 2025 onwards to follow on from the current target of mobilising $100billion per year from 2020 to support developing countries with climate change measures.

COP25: Chile/Madrid

COP25 took place in December 2019 under the Presidency of the Government of Chile. It took place under fairly difficult circumstances, with host Chile pulling out due to civil unrest and being relocated to Madrid less than a month before the conference. The US also notified the UN of its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement less than a month before the conference. The aim for COP25 was to finalise the “rulebook” by setting rules for carbon markets and other forms of international cooperation under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Delegates also hoped to show the world that the UN climate process remains relevant and effective.

Unfortunately, COP25 will be remembered for a disappointing outcome and a stark disconnect between civil society momentum and political response. The outcome was very negatively received in the public discourse with headlines such as: “Five reasons COP25 climate talks failed”; “COP 25 was a cop-out”; “COP 25: Longest COP ends in disappointment”; and “COP25: Never have so many Governments done so little for so many”. The talks failed to reach consensus in many areas and pushed many decisions to COP26. Article 6 carbon markets, long-term finance, reporting requirements for transparency, and common timeframes for climate pledges were left unresolved.

COP26: Glasgow

All eyes are on Glasgow for COP26, which has been described as the most important climate change event since the Paris Agreement was agreed and takes place in year one of what has been called the ‘Decade of Delivery’ for climate change measures.

COP26 has a hard task ahead: not only has it to tackle the unresolved issues from COP25 but the parties are for the first time to upgrade their pledges on tackling climate change and their emissions targets through to 2030.

The stakes are high and COP26 presents the UK with an opportunity to further its leadership combating climate change by tackling the difficult challenge of building consensus among a variety of competing and often opposing interests between countries and blocs. It is not an easy mission and one which will require diplomacy, creativity and perseverance in abundance.

More details will become available as we progress towards the intercessional meeting in Bonn in June which CMS will analyse and report on.