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What are the chances of a big breakthrough at Cop26?

UN climate talks in Glasgow aims to accelerate action towards goals of Paris Agreement

Volunteers wait to support firefighters during a wildfire next to the village of Kamatriades, near Istiaia on the Greek island Evia in August. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

Volunteers wait to support firefighters during a wildfire next to the village of Kamatriades, near Istiaia on the Greek island Evia in August. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP via Getty Images

 

For the first time since the landmark Paris Agreement was agreed in 2015, there is a more upbeat mood in the run-up to the annual UN climate talks taking place in Glasgow.

The stakes could not be higher as the climate crisis is increasingly showing its menacing side; the time to curb its more devastating impacts is shortening dramatically. The evidence confirms it is a here-and-now crisis with at least 85 per cent of the global population experiencing weather events. The link between escalating extreme weather events and human activities arising from fossil fuel use and generation of other carbon emissions is indisputable.

Tomás Sercovich, chief executive of Business in the Community Ireland, confirms many of its members are making big announcements in advance of COP26 – the organisation is a leading adviser on sustainability. M&S and Tesco are among that group, with more expected, he adds. Significantly, the commitments apply to their own emissions and those of suppliers; some are “pre-2050”.

He hopes alliances and states making progress will also showcase solutions and new technologies at COP26 and highlight opportunities for Ireland – especially in helping to address sectoral issues; in agriculture, transport and household emissions.

Science-based targets

Sercovich underlines the need for targets to be science based, noting some pledges do not fall into this category, which leaves a gap to be bridged not only by businesses but also governments. Halving emissions in just eight years to have a chance of containing global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees “is not far away . . . it’s critical that companies have that mindframe”.

At COP26 in Glasgow the EU will call on parties to the Paris pact to come forward with ambitious nationally determined contributions and to step up adaptation efforts collectively to build resilience for inevitable impacts. Photograph: iStock
At Cop26 in Glasgow the EU will call on parties to the Paris pact to come forward with ambitious nationally determined contributions and to step up adaptation efforts collectively to build resilience for inevitable impacts. Photograph: iStock

In spite of Covid, he hopes non-state actors will be able to take part fully, and the nexus between carbon and decline in nature is fully recognised.

The need for alignment on how we keep global warming below the 1.5 degree target, with everyone from countries to businesses to consumers on board, has been underlined by Klair Neenan, managing director of the renewable energy company SSE Airtricity Ireland. “The Paris Agreement was a defining moment in ambition but Glasgow needs to deliver on the urgency needed by countries across the globe as we seek to halt the speed of the planet heating up. Negotiation is not easy but the pandemic has shown the importance of collaboration and we hope world leaders will approach the summit in the same spirit. This is a defining moment, the eyes of the world are upon us and we must take action now,” she says.

To be effective, net-zero pledges require transparency and accurate calculations of overall costs involved with removing carbon, according to Mark Campanale of Carbon Tracker Initiative, which evaluates the impact of climate change on financial markets.

EU position

The European Union wants to become “the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Its pre-COP26 position emphasises the extreme urgency to step up the global response to address the climate emergency and underlines the need for a just and fair climate transition across the world.

The reality is the world is currently not on course to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees; it’s on track for 2.7 degrees based on current promises. Many more collective efforts are needed to keep our planet’s temperature within safe limits.

Prof Peter Thorne of NUI Maynooth, a lead author with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says: “We need to close the gap between current policy and stated ambition, and that’s pretty much across the board globally.”

An agreement which lays down rules for international carbon markets, enabling countries to trade emission reductions, is also long overdue.

At COP26 the EU will call on parties to the Paris pact to come forward with ambitious nationally determined contributions (NDCs), and to step up adaptation efforts collectively to build resilience for inevitable impacts.

Many countries (including Ireland) are committing to halving their emissions by 2030 and to achieving “net-zero” emissions by 2050 under their NDCs. This means Ireland has to cut emissions from 60 million tonnes of CO2 to 30 million tonnes a year within eight years; a huge ask with economy-wide implications.

And in spite of the US returning to the Paris fold and China committing to decarbonisation at scale, we are still far off a globally co-ordinated approach needed to deliver an orderly green transition.

The EU, United States and China have different time horizons. A joint commitment to achieving it by 2050 at the latest would increase the chance of adhering to a 1.5-degree rise and contribute to a meaningful outcome in Glasgow.