/ 1 June 2021

Critical climate change talks raise the pressure for COP26

Sand Artwork Highlights Climate Change Ahead Of Cop26
The stage has been set for one of the most anticipated climate conferences to address global warming – and targets for the biggest emitters . (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

It’s crunch time for parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as parties get together for the first time since the last climate conference (the Conference of the Parties, or COP25) in Madrid, Spain, in 2019. 

The UNFCCC started on Monday 31 May and is set to run until 17 June. 

The conference, which is taking place virtually, is expected to set a precedent for the COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. Limiting the barriers to COP26 in-person attendance will also be discussed, given the unequal roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines across the globe.

The UNFCCC said that the sessions would allow parties to make progress on the high volume of work accumulated because there were no sessions in 2020.

Secretary Patricia Espinosa said during a press briefing at the launch of the talks that delegates must show up in Glasgow “with decisions ready to be taken”. 

“We cannot achieve success at COP26 if we cannot achieve success here,” she said. 

The talks are expected to cover climate finance, greater ambitions to mitigate further warming, common time frames on climate targets, and robust carbon market rules. 

The conference comes as big emitters, including China, Russia and the US, made ambitious pledges to get to net-zero emissions in the short and long term since the last conference. 

“The other challenge is that many of the central issues for a successful COP26 like the issue of finance, including adaptation finance — they need to be also partly a result of decisions that are taken in places beyond our crosses, in the G7, in the G20,” said Espinosa.  

Former COP25 president Carolina Schmidt told reporters on Monday that parties needed to finalise issues around Article 6, which deadlocked at the 2019 conference. 

Article 6 will set the rules for the carbon markets in which big polluters can offset their emissions by investing in mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. It means that a country can use the carbon market to mitigate climate change by investing in another country’s climate change programmes. COP26 will also be expected to set a price on carbon for the new market. 

Previous climate conferences saw talks on Article 6 drag on for days without resolve. Developing countries have previously accused countries such as Brazil of double-counting their carbon credits while insisting that credits from the old market under the Kyoto Protocol be carried over into the new agreement. 

According to the UNFCCC: “Emissions trading, as set out in Article 17 of the Kyoto Protocol, allows countries that have emission units to spare — emissions permitted but not ‘used’ — to sell this excess capacity to countries that are over their targets. Carbon is now tracked and traded like any other commodity.” 

The Kyoto Protocol expired at the end of December 2019 when the Paris Agreement officially took effect. 

Schmidt said that a price on carbon would give investors certainty that they will have incentives to move globally, reach the best opportunities, and accelerate transformations in other countries. 

The UNFCCC has emphasised that the need for urgent progress was underlined by the World Meteorological Organisation, which last week said there is now about a 40% chance that the annual average global temperature increase will reach the 1.5°C mark in at least one of the next five years. 

“Exceeding this goal will likely impact food security and lead to more frequent and severe climate impacts such as heatwaves, storms and sea level increases,” the organisation said.

Incoming COP26 president Alok Sharma opened the three-week talks asking parties to move past “positional” statements.

“It is vital we make this session count by moving past positional statements and making tangible progress within the UNFCCC process. Working together, we must consolidate options and draft text that we can bring to COP26 for finalisation and adoption so that we arrive in Glasgow having done our homework and ready to deliver against the goals of the Paris Agreement,” Sharma said.