About 30,000 delegates, including heads of states and governments of 120 countries, scientists, representatives of civil society, and journalists of 200 countries have started out for Glasgow, Scotland, from various parts of the world. They are joining the climate conference, COP26. The summit will begin on 31 October and continues till 12 November. The issues of conference have long been under discussion. The conference was scheduled to be held last year, but was held up due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Naturally this gave the countries extra time for behind-the-scene discussions on the issues. However, doubt has been expressed about the success of the conference. The prime minister of the host country United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, has said, "It’s going to be very tough…. We might not get the agreements that we need.”
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) monitors global agreements and activities on the climate change. Its executive secretary Patricia Espinosa warned the failure of this conference will bring dire consequences. World security and stability may collapse. Increasing migration and food crisis may be the cause of worldwide conflict and disorder if the countries fail to lessen emission of greenhouse gas.
COP26: Why and what will happen
In 2015 another global conference on climate was held in the French capital, Paris. The agreements that were made there were termed epoch-making at the time. Why is Glasgow conference important?
Scientists more or less agree that the main reason of climate change is man-made. One of the main reasons is the use of fossil fuel, which is on an upward trend. As a result, the temperature of the world is increasing. We are frequently facing unfavorable weather. A huge number of people are being displaced and losing employment due to various natural calamities including excessive rain, floods, fires, drought and rise in sea level. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, global temperatures hit the highest levels in the last decade and are reaching new levels every year. This is creating pressure on politicians to alter this trend of climate change.
The 2015 Paris agreement was a historic one. It has international legal bindings. In the agreement, the countries agreed they would not allow global warming to increase this decade 1.5 degrees Celsius more than the pre-industrial times. There is no way to avoid disaster other than to achieve this goal.
The current emission of greenhouse gas has to be significantly slashed in order to achieve the goal of Paris agreement. This has brought net zero emissions into discussions. This means the amount of harmful gas being emitted in the atmosphere, has to be removed to bring a balance. Many European countries including UK have planned to achieve net zero by 2050.
Over 200 leaders and representatives will gather at Glasgow. They will be asked what they will do to cut down gas emissions. Each country is supposed to present its own national plan, the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The conference secretariat said China, which is one of the top emitters, till 27 October has not published its plan. In the beginning of COP26, a two-day conference was supposed to be held in which the absence of Chinese president has disappointed many.
More commitments needed to cut greenhouse gas emission
It was decided at Paris hat progress of reaching the goal will be reviewed and necessary steps would be determined once in every five years. In that perspective, the Glasgow conference is important. Another bit of information of the UN can be cited here to show the importance of Glasgow’s COP-26. On 26 October, the United Nations said the plans it received from different countries to cut greenhouse gas, estimates the emission of greenhouse gas would stand at 2.7 degrees by the end of the current century instead of planned the 1.5 degrees. It means the rate of decreasing greenhouse gas is 45 per cent less than necessary. So all the countries have to cut emission of this gas at a higher level.
The steps to cut harmful greenhouse gas that may be heard at COP26 are:
●Dependence on coal-fired power plants has to be ended expeditiously
●Increasing investment in renewable energy and technology has to be made accessible
● Increase in electric vehicles rather than transport run on fossil fuel
● Reducing tree felling
● Providing additional funds for coastal protection embankments so that lives and livelihoods can be protected from the inclement weather
The International Centre for Climate Change and Development director, Saleemul Huq of Bangladesh, earlier participated in 25 climate summits. In the English daily, The Daily Star, he wrote the participation of the head of governments in the Glasgow climate conference does not mean they would come up with a new agreement.
COP is an annual meeting of representatives of member states of UNFCC, where they review the progress of implementation of agreement. Experts and bureaucrats join in the conference in the first week while ministers join in the second week, where the political negotiations take place. It seems there will be no exception in the Glasgow conference. The summit of G20, an alliance of countries of industrially developed and emerging economies is being held in Rome. If any consensus on climate issues is reached there, this will have an impact on COP-26.
The question of climate justice
There are indications that the bone of contention at the Glasgow conference may be climate justice. The pollution created by the developing countries per head is much less than that of the industrially developed countries. Industrially developed countries are also liable for major pollution in the past. Yet it is the developing countries that are mostly affected by climate change. Bangladesh and several pacific countries including Maldives are at higher risk. Major parts or entire of these countries may go under water as a result of sea level rise due to global warming.
They need funds to cover loss caused by climate change and to tackle risk. Huge amount of investment is needed to control floods or to take steps for protection from floods and to lessen dependence on fossil fuel.
In 2009, industrialised countries, the major source of global warming, made a commitment that their annual financial support will increase to US dollars 100 billion to cut harmful emission of gas and to tackle negative impact caused by climate change.
That commitment has not been fulfilled. According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), rich countries funded US dollars 8 billion in 2019. The amount was less in the previous years. Current chairpersons of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a group of high risk countries, prime minister Sheikh Hasina, stressed the need for fulfillment of those commitments at a climate summit in New York on 20 September.
The new plans UK, Germany and Canada have unveiled to finance the developing countries to tackle the impact of climate change would not be adequate to meet the expectations, and there is an indication of this.
Under the new plans, the deadline of the fulfillment of commitment to annually finance 100 billion US dollars to the developing countries has been rescheduled to 2023. Besides, while financing to the poor countries, priority will be given to tackle the negative impact of climate change rather than cutting emissions of harmful gas. Reacting to the new plan, Maldives former president Mohamed Nasheed said this declaration is disappointing. He said the commitment of 100 billion US dollars has to be fulfilled now, not waiting till 2023 to keep trust in COP26 and to activate activities to tackle climate change.
Assessing success or failure
As a host country, UK is expecting a big commitment from all countries to achieve net zero emission of harmful gas and elimination of such from the atmosphere by 2050 and accordingly to cut emissions of gas till 2030 to achieve that goal.
It will be a failure of the conference if there is no consensus over the necessary steps to limit rise in global warming to 1.5 degrees. However, some scientists and environmentalists believe that world leaders have already delayed and whatever decision was taken in COP26 conference, it would not be possible to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degree Celsius.
Another opinion is that in the recession or stagnation created in the world economy due to Covid, an opportunity has surfaced to implement the revival of green economy.
About the revival plan of green economy, the experts mean the development of renewable energy and environment friendly development instead of use of fossil fuel. But unfortunately, global developed economies are failing to utilise that opportunity.
* Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist
* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Rabiul Islam