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What is COP26, why it is important & India’s role at the climate change conference

COP26 will be held in Glasgow from 31 October-12 November. ThePrint explains its importance, India’s stake in climate change, and upcoming negotiations.

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New Delhi: Over the last few weeks, countries across the world have come out to declare their contributions to limit global warming and help prevent climate change ahead of the world’s largest climate conference — the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, also known as ‘COP26’.

The COP is an annual summit under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a global agreement signed in 1992, between 197 countries (or parties) to prevent “dangerous” human interference with the climate system. The COP is the supreme decision-making body that comes together to negotiate how to implement the Convention.

Over the years, as global warming commands more urgency, the COP has become a place for countries to dedicate resources to slowing down global warming and climate change. But it has also become a space where tensions between the developing and developed nations play out, particularly when it comes to who is responsible for climate change.

This year, the 26th COP will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, between 31 October and 12 November. It is considered one of the most significant to date because countries are expected to dedicate even more resources to fight climate change since the Paris Agreement, a legally binding global treaty dedicated to keeping global warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius.

ThePrint explains the importance of the COP, why some climate commitments are tenuous, as well as India’s stake in climate change and the upcoming negotiations.

The COP & the agreements

The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995, three years after the UNFCCC was signed, and has happened in a new part of the world ever since. Over the years, the COP has given birth to some of the most important legal instruments and guidelines on curbing climate change.

At the third COP in Kyoto, Japan, countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol, a landmark agreement in which 37 countries were legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent compared to 1990 levels. It only came into force in 2006, after 55 countries ratified the agreement. The US, the biggest emitter (responsible for 35 per cent of all emissions at the time), refused to sign the agreement, which expired in 2012.

Years later, at the COP18 in Doha, Qatar, the Kyoto Protocol was amended to include a wider list of greenhouse gases, and that it would be valid from 2013 to 2020. The Doha Amendment, as it is known, entered into force in December 2020 after 147 countries signed the pact.

The Paris Agreement, mentioned above, has so far been the most significant outcome of COP negotiations since it is near-universal (197 parties have signed the pact). Countries came up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that they would have to achieve by 2030. These NDCs are reviewed and revised every five years, as per the agreement.

China, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide today, pledged to peak emissions before 2030, reduce carbon intensity by 65 per cent below 2005 levels, increase installed capacity of wind and solar energy by 1,200 GW, and increase forest stock by 6 million cubic meters.

India, the third-largest emitter, made three promises: To reduce emissions intensity economy-wide by 33 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels, to generate 40 per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources, and to create a carbon sink capable of absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (through additional forest and tree cover).

Also read: From India to US to Turkey to China to Brazil, it’s not ‘crazy weather’ but climate change

Issues and points of contention

Although countries manage to draft and sign agreements, it isn’t always easy. Several contentious issues, including climate finance and net zero emissions targets, are also expected to come up during the COP26.

In 2009, at the 15th COP, it was decided that developed countries would deliver $100 billion to developing countries by 2020 to help manage climate mitigation and adaptation since lower-income countries will likely face the brunt of climate change. At COP21, this commitment was reiterated and extended for a period of five years, till 2025.

But developed countries have so far failed to live up to their promises, and are unlikely to drum up the sum of $100 billion before 2023 — three years after the original deadline. By 2019, developed countries had managed to provide and mobilise just $79 billion.

The UNFCCC’s financial standing committee has said this amount is insufficient, and that developing countries would actually need between $5.8 trillion to $5.9 trillion every year till 2030 to achieve less than half of their climate goals under the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015.

The $100 billion also doesn’t include finance for loss and damage due to climate change, which developing countries argue should be footed by high-income countries who are responsible for a bulk of emissions causing climate change today.

Another point of contention is that of net zero emissions targets, whereby the same amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted due to human activity is removed from the atmosphere. Both China and the US have committed to net zero targets by 2060 and 2050, respectively.

India, which is the third-largest emitter of CO2 in the world today, has resisted committing to a mid-century net zero target, arguing that since it hasn’t contributed to historical emissions, the responsibility of making deep cuts shouldn’t lie with it.

Historical emissions refer to emissions that have accumulated for centuries, since the industrial revolution. The US is the biggest historical emitter, accounting for 20 per cent of global emissions today, according to Carbon Brief.

China is also not a historical emitter but began emitting heavily during the turn of the century, leading it to be the source of 11 per cent of global emissions today. India, meanwhile, accounts for 3.4 per cent of the global emissions.

Also read: These are the ‘code red’ warnings in IPCC climate change report, & why it matters

How India has navigated international agreements

The NDCs that countries come up with are either conditional (contingent upon foreign funding, for example) or unconditional.

India’s renewable energy target is contingent upon foreign funding. Two initiatives, in particular, have helped India reach its pre-2030 goals.

In November 2015, PM Modi and former French president Francois Hollande launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA), aimed at promoting solar energy across the world and deploying solar energy at affordable costs, at COP21 in Paris. ISA hopes to get political backing for its proposed One Sun One World One Grid, a trans-national solar power grid that could drive down the need for solar storage and reduce the costs of the energy transition, at COP26.

The US too has taken an interest in funding India’s renewable energy transition so it can meet its Paris Agreement goals. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry marked his second visit to India this year by launching the US-India Climate Action and Finance Mobilization Dialogue, which is aimed at creating stronger bilateral cooperation to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

The COP26 was supposed to be held last year but it could not take place due to the Covid pandemic.

Prime Minister Modi will be attending the summit in person. He last attended the COP21 in Paris in 2015, when the Paris Agreement was concluded.

“At COP-26, the Parties will work to achieve the completion of Paris Agreement implementation guidelines; the mobilization of climate finance; actions to strengthen climate adaptation, technology development and transfer; and keeping in reach the Paris Agreement goals of limiting the rise in global temperatures,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement last week announcing the PM’s visit.

(Edited by Neha Mahajan)

Also read: How COP26 can make up for the failure of 25 previous conferences to tackle climate change


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