COP26: Pre-event primer

The next UN Conference of the Parties, COP26, is set to take place from October 31 to November 12, 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland, under the presidency of the UK. COP26 represents a critical moment for the global community to address climate issues including how it will support low- and middle-income countries in dealing with this crisis. To help you prepare, the Donor Tracker team has prepared a brief primer for global development advocates on key issues and programming at COP26.

Key issues for global development advocates to watch

  1. Accountability on donors’ US$100 billion commitment

In 2009, donor countries agreed to raise US$100 billion in “new and additional” climate finance per year by 2020 to help low- and middle-income countries tackle climate change. So far donors have fallen short of the financing goal; however, actual flows are contested due to the vaguely defined target and lack of accountability mechanisms. Ahead of COP26, the UK, Germany, and Canada published a ‘Climate Finance Delivery Plan’ to “provide clarity on when and how developed countries will meet the US$100 billion climate finance goal”, but this will continue to be an important topic of discussion in Glasgow.

According to the chair of the African Group of Negotiators at COP26, African countries want a new system to track funding from the US$100 billion annual target. Their demand highlights tensions between the world's 20 largest economies, which are responsible for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions, and low- and middle-income countries which are bearing the brunt of the effects of global warming.

The issue of countries' ability to access this climate finance will also be on the table at COP26. Currently, climate finance can be "difficult and slow to access" undermining its usefulness to recipients. Ahead of COP26, the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance, co-chaired by the UK and Fiji, was formed to transform climate finance system, making it more coherent and effective in its support for low- and middle-income countries.

  1. Attention paid to climate change adaptation

Adaptation is a priority for many low- and middle-income countries, which are already feeling the impacts of climate change and where annual adaptation costs are expected to increase dramatically in coming years. And yet, funding for climate change adaptation continues to lag behind funding for climate change mitigation and is not being directed to the poorest and most vulnerable countries. Climate change adaptation is on the agenda for COP26; it is essential that donor countries take this opportunity to agree on a strategy for scaling up funding for climate change adaptation and ensuring that these funds are reaching those who need it most.

Part of the challenge so far is that donors tend to favor mitigation projects because they can be more easily measured for 'success' and because they lend themselves more easily to loan financing (given that adaptation projects rarely generate returns on investment). It is hopeful that ahead of COP26, there does seem to be broad recognition that these challenges need to be overcome. The Climate Finance Delivery Plan, like the ‘Roadmap to US$100 billion’ that came before it, recognizes the need to increase climate finance for adaptation-related projects. In addition, the UK has co-developed the Adaptation Action Coalition, in partnership with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia, and the United Nations Development Programme, to "build momentum and support action to adapt and build resilience to the impacts of climate change".

  1. Threats posed to the success of COP26

Global participation and solidarity will be paramount to the success of COP26; however, we already we are seeing some key players pulling out,  trying to change UN recommendations for action against climate change, and questioning the need to pay more to poorer states to support their transition toward greener technologies. This suggests that that expectations of outcomes of COP26 should be carefully managed.

The potential absence of important leaders is a blow to the aspirations of COP26. Chinese President Xi Jinping may not attend the COP after all. China may instead be represented by the vice-environment minister, Zhao Yingmin, and top climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua. China, one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses and an important provider of development finance, is not expected to provide more concessions than it already committed to last year. It has not pledged anything ahead of COP26 and this likely will not change. China’s lukewarm engagement so far could undermine the ambitions of advocates at COP26. Russia, Brazil, India, and Japan also may not send their heads of government (e.g., Prime Minister). More info on who else will snub the event here.

Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Australia are asking the UN to downplay the need to move rapidly away from fossil fuels, while Brazil and Argentina, two of the world’s largest producers of beef and animal feed, have been pressing the UN to exclude messages about the climate benefits of promoting plant-based diets and of curbing meat and dairy consumption.

Switzerland directed its attention to “amending parts of the report that argue developing countries will need support, particularly financial support, from rich countries to meet emission reduction targets.”

Understanding the program

COP26 will comprise the Presidency Programme, which will address various subjects including finance, energy, youth, and public empowerment, nature, gender and climate adaptation, loss, and damages among others.

Delegation negotiations will take place in the UN manged ‘Blue Zone’ at the Scottish Events Campus in Glasgow. Here, world leaders will work toward the goals of COP26 such as updating countries' Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, enabling and encouraging adaptation and conservation, mobilizing climate finance for low- and middle-income countries, and finalizing the Paris Rulebook. The Blue Zone, which will also include official side events and exhibits from additional stakeholders. To enter the Blue Zone, attendees must be accredited by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and abide by all official COVID-19 protocols set forth by the Conference.

The general public and advocates will share stories and promote dialogue in the UK Government managedGreen Zone' at the Glasgow Science Centre. UNFCCC accreditation is not necessary to enter the Green Zone; however, attendees must abide by COVID-19 protocols set forth by the Scottish government. Most events in the Green Zone will be streamed live on the COP26 YouTube Channel.

Glasgow, the COP26 host city, will also hold various events and exhibitions, which can be found on the City Council website. Additional events will take place throughout the conference hosted by a variety of NGOs, academic institutions, businesses, and other stakeholders.

In addition to side events and exhibitions, Glasgow will see multiple protests throughout the conference. Fridays for Future (FFF) Scotland will stage a youth climate protest/ school strike on Friday, November 5. The largest climate protest, however, will take place on Saturday, November 6 with an estimated 50,000 in attendance for the ‘Global Day for Climate Justice’. November 3 will see the Greenwash March, aimed at targeting climate criminals, and many smaller protests will take place during the two weeks.

At least 30,000 participants are expected to descend on Glasgow, putting pressure on the city’s infrastructure system. Bin workers and rail workers plan to strike for much of the conference in ongoing wage disputes.

 

COP26 is being heralded as "the world's best last chance" to manage the climate crisis we have created. In addition to providing an opportunity for countries to agree on concrete actions to reduce emissions that would limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius, COP26 is an important moment for the global community to address climate injustice. Achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs), and securing a world in which all people have the opportunity to thrive, depends on our ability to get this climate emergency under control.

 

For more help understanding COP26, look at this useful infographic or read 'COP26 Explained'.

Our Working Student, Maura Kitchens West, will be tweeting from COP26, so be sure to follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn for daily highlights.


Read more about donors' commitments to tackling climate change in low- and middle-income counties: