Civil Society at COP 24

Glasgow Climate Change Conference

31 October – 12 November 2021 | Glasgow, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC

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Glasgow Climate Change Conference
Civil society at COP 24
Photo courtesy of Kiara Worth

The Glasgow Climate Change Conference is a uniquely symbolic moment occurring in uncertain times. It is the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to be held since the Paris Agreement took over from the Kyoto Protocol in 2020. It is also the first major UN environmental meeting to be held in person since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Conference is a first signal of whether the Paris Agreement can adequately address the climate emergency. No formal negotiations have taken place in the last two years and the UK Presidency faces significant challenges to produce meaningful outcomes. As part of the “Road to Glasgow,” the Presidency has convened informal dialogues among delegates and ministers, and the Chairs of the Subsidiary Bodies have captured the progress of online consultations in informal notes.

Below, we highlight a few of the major issues facing delegates at the Glasgow Climate Conference. Successful outcomes on these issues may be important litmus tests of the Paris Agreement’s early promise.

Climate Ambition

Countries submit pledges—called nationally determined contributions (NDCs)—to the Paris Agreement. There was an invitation, perhaps even an expectation, that countries would submit revised and more ambitious NDCs in 2020. By the end of 2020, there were 48 new NDCs submitted by 47 countries and the EU. Many were announced during the Climate Ambition Summit. Additional NDCs were submitted in 2021, notably from the United States, which pledges to reduce emissions by 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The UNFCCC Secretariat analyzed the NDCs submitted by the end of July 2021. The NDC Synthesis Report documents the effects of the new, updated NDCs that cover about 59% of parties to the Paris Agreement and account for 49% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The good news is that the NDCs represent a 12% decrease in emissions. The bad news is that the pledges may lead to a temperature rise of 2.7°C by the end of the century. Some major emitting countries, including Australia, China, and India, have yet to submit new pledges and it is unknown if they intend to do so in Glasgow.

There are agenda items that may address the need to increase ambition. On the COP agenda, there is an item on Equitable, fair, ambitious, and urgent real emission reductions now consistent with a trajectory to reduce the temperature below 1.5 °C.

Related to raising ambition is the issue of common time frames, or how long NDCs will last.. At COP25 in Madrid in 2019, negotiations on this issue ended in a stalemate, after several options were put on the table. The current options are outlined in the SBI Chair’s Scenario Note (June 2021) and include 5 years, 10 years, 5+5 years (5 year NDCs, with “indicative” NDCs submitted as well, among other interpretations), and different time frames for developed and developing countries. Many hoped at the June subsidiary bodies meeting that this issue could be settled in Glasgow.

Climate Finance

Ten years ago, developed countries pledged to provide or mobilize USD 100 billion per year by 2020. The promise remains unfilled. Current estimates by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show that USD 79.6 billion was provided or mobilized in 2019, roughly similar to 2018 levels. The Standing Committee on Finance will publish its fourth biennial assessment and overview of climate finance flows for discussion at the COP.

Developing countries have linked the provision of finance to the success of COP26. At COP25 in Madrid, the African Group and China separately stated their willingness to withhold agreement on the priorities of developed countries (especially transparency issues) until finance was adequately addressed. Signals since then remain strong—for COP26 to achieve progress on key issues, developed countries must build trust that they will meet their financial pledges. So far, the European Union has announced it would increase its contribution by EUR 4 billion and the US announced it would double its current commitment for a total of USD 11.4 billion a year by 2024.

There are many finance-related issues on the agenda. The Standing Committee on Finance will present its assessment of the needs of developing country parties to implement the Convention and the Paris Agreement. This is an important effort and the first time such an assessment has been carried out under the UNFCCC.

Adaptation

The effects of climate change are clear. Developing countries have long argued that adaptation should be given the same amount of consideration and funding as mitigation. That balance is still elusive. Most climate financing, for example, goes to efforts to reduce emissions rather than to building resilience to climate change.

In 2019, the African Group requested a new agenda item on the Global Goal on Adaptation, which is enshrined in the Paris Agreement. That request was unsuccessful then, but is currently on the draft agenda of the CMA (the governing body of the Paris Agreement). Adaptation also features quite heavily on the draft COP agenda.

Carbon Markets

When countries completed the “Paris Rulebook” in Katowice in 2018, one key piece was missing. The Rulebook includes guidance and procedures to allow countries to interpret and implement the Paris Agreement in a similar way. But they could not find common ground on Article 6—a set of three issues that govern the trade in internationally transferable mitigation outcomes, a new market mechanism, and a framework for non-market based approaches.

Progress in the negotiations has remained slow. Without formal negotiations over the past two years, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK Presidency has convened a series of events, including technical workshops and ministerial roundtables to help negotiations to move forward in Glasgow. Expectations are muted. This issue is multifaceted and complex, with widely divergent views. Few expect to complete the negotiations at the Glasgow meeting, but there is hope for some progress.

What is the UNFCCC?

The international political response to climate change began with the 1992 adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which sets out the basic legal framework and principles for international climate change cooperation with the aim of stabilizing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

To boost the effectiveness of the 1992 UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in December 1997. It committed industrialized countries and countries in transition to a market economy to achieve quantified emissions reduction targets. The Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period took place from 2008 to 2012. The 2012 Doha Amendment established the second commitment period from 2013 to 2020.

In December 2015, parties adopted the Paris Agreement, which requires all parties to submit and regularly report on the nationally determined contribution (NDC) that each undertakes to reduce emissions and/or build resilience to climate change. Every five years, parties will conduct a “Global Stocktake” of their collective progress on mitigation, adaptation, and provision of support to developing countries.

The 2021 Glasgow Climate Change Conference comprises of the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) to the UNFCCC, the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol, CMP 16), the third meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA3), as well as meetings of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation.

The Glasgow Climate Change Conference was originally scheduled to take place in November 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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