Why I'm Attending COP26

FROM: Rupa Mukerji – 02. November 2021

First, the practical reason for my presence in Glasgow: My colleagues from Latin America were meant to participate and share their experiences and climate actions, together with several partners, at COP26 but the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for them to quarantine for 5 days, even after vaccination, made their participation cumbersome and expensive. Yes, the pandemic is still with us and it casts a long shadow over COP26.

While it’s easy to dismiss the climate conference of parties (COP) as “talk shops with small progresses and several large failures,” they are the only platform we have to negotiate and build consensus on the global emergency of climate change.

The IPCC (Working Group 1) report, released in August 2021, says “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.” The world today is 1.1 degrees °C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and the impacts are all around us—ranging from fires in Siberia, rainfall in Greenland, heat waves in Asia, Africa and Europe, to floods and cyclones of unprecedented scale in all continents.

After decades of vacillation and lost time, the Paris Agreement finally committed the world to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees °C. This decade was designated the “decade of action” where we still retain a small chance of staying within this limit. Despite the reduction in transport emissions due to COVID restrictions over the last 20 months, greenhouse emissions have continued to rise.

Every half degree of warming matters in terms of human lives lost and the deterioration of living conditions. For instance, at present about 2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water; this number is likely to grow to 3.4 billion with 2 degrees °C warming, estimates the IPCC. The likelihood of events such as extreme hot spells, heavy rainfall and droughts goes up manifold with every additional half degree of warming. These are also our lived experiences today and no longer remain in the realm of science alone.

Source: IPCC AR6, Working Group 1, Summary for Policy Makers

The 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen was dubbed “Hopenhagen” as the world hoped there would be a new deal as a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. These hopes were dashed when trust in the negotiation process was broken. It took almost a decade for world leaders to come together to sign the Paris Agreement in 2015. Signatory nations of the Paris Agreement have committed to contribute to the globally defined goal of restricting global warming to “well below 2 degrees °C.” These commitments are made every 5 years in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Last year the COP could not be held due to the pandemic, meaning now is the critical moment to take stock of the NDCs and raise ambitions. The current emission reduction commitments are such that if we were to remain on this path, the world would be 2.7 degrees °C warmer on average by the end of the century and could breach the 2 degrees °C warming within the next two decades.

Summit Expectations

Therefore, the Glasgow summit is absolutely crucial for raising ambitions. Helvetas expects the following from the summit:

Renewed commitment and actions to restrict global warming to 1.5 degrees °C. The risks of inaction and delays are too high, and they are disproportionately borne by the most vulnerable people—the elderly, women and children, and populations in the least developed and small island nations who have contributed the least to the factors that are causing climate change.

Fulfill the promise of $100 billion in climate finance per year to the most climate vulnerable. This promise was made in 2009 and was to be fulfilled by 2020, but current trends indicate it will only be reached by 2023. Climate-vulnerable communities desperately need this support. It should be in the form of grants, not loans, and without creative accounting that erodes trust. Many donors, such as Switzerland, are using their Official Development Assistance (ODA) to provide climate finance, arguing that climate action is closely related to development and one must mainstream climate considerations in all development actions. While in principle this is correct, ODA must then go up to the same extent as climate finance, since the latter is meant to cover the additional costs of “climate proofing” development. 

The financing of adaptation has lagged, while the needs are increasing. Even with recent acceleration, adaptation finance forms only 25% of climate finance and very little (less than 10%) of it reaches the local level. Helvetas joins several coalitions such as for Locally Led Adaptation, the Climate Justice and Resilience Fund, AVINA foundation, and Voices for Climate Action to advocate for more climate finance to reach local communities and actors and to support locally led adaptation, which can be inclusive and appropriate. At least 50% of all climate finance must be targeted towards adaptation.

A carbon tax, combined with a more transparent and better governed voluntary carbon market, should trigger the private sector to invest in mitigation on the massive scale that is needed. We expect progress on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement related to carbon markets, leading to the scale of net reduction of greenhouse gasses that adherence to the Paris Agreement demands.

Climate injustice is an important claim that must be recognized, and it plays out at least at three levels. Firstly, inequity across nations in their level of responsibility for anthropogenic climate change and the capability to deal with its consequences. The second is the inequities within countries—between the rich with their large carbon footprint and the poor, and between men and women. The third dimension of climate injustice is intergenerational, between current and past generations who have benefited from fossil fuel-driven economic growth and quality of life, and future generations who will have fewer development options and choices. A further area of concern is the impact of transitions in several economic sectors that a shift to a Green Economy would imply, and its implications on workers employed in those sectors. Labor unions across the world are arguing for a “just transition” that is fair and inclusive of the workers who are often themselves economically vulnerable and exposed to many environmental hazards. Just transitions would include fair treatment of workers, such as those in the fossil fuel industries, their re-skilling, and regional redevelopment plans that trigger new economic activities. We support our partners in their claim to climate justice, and also support just transitions in our partner countries.

Delayed and inadequate measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are causing loss of life and damage to livelihoods and assets in the more climate-vulnerable regions of the world. With the clear causality that is now possible to establish between human-induced climate change and extreme events that are leading to “loss and damage,” we work with our partners to gather and assess the evidence of such “loss and damage.” We develop concrete risk reduction strategies, build capacities to reduce and manage risk, and support partners in their advocacy for this under-developed aspect of the Paris Agreement.

COP26 is delayed by a year due to the pandemic. In this “decade of climate action” every year matters. We will therefore be at COP26, with our partners who can participate virtually or in person, to provide evidence and share solutions that are working across the world. Every action matters, and Helvetas is committed to enhancing actions for climate-resilient development for all.