Insight

Robert Peston: Why COP26 may yet fail

ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston outlines the key issues set to be resolved, that will define the success or failure of COP26


The big uncertainty as we approach this final phase of climate negotiations in Glasgow is whether the so-called LMDCs (the Like Minded Developing Countries) collectively meant what their Bolivian spokesman has said, namely that the "mitigation" section should be excised from COP26's draft "cover declaration". At this juncture, you have probably lost the will to live, in despair at having read something of no apparent relevance to you. But please bear with me, as I translate. First of all, the LMDCs are critical to the success of these talks to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre industrial levels, because along with Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia they also include China and India, or two out of the top three emitters of greenhouse gases. Second, the mitigation section of the declaration is arguably the most important section, because it is the part that is all about forcing countries to re-engineer power generation, transport and how we live such that greenhouse gas emissions are roughly halved by 2030 and eliminated totally on a net basis by the middle of the century.


What countries are hampering progress at the COP26 summit? Rachel Younger reports


It is also the section I've been banging on about for weeks, because the hope of Boris Johnson and UN secretary Guterres is it would include an intention for countries to toughen up their national contributions to reducing CO2 and methane emissions over the next year, rather than on the current five-year timetable. So with global warming currently on a path towards considerably more than two degrees, that mitigation section of the declaration is the world's main hope that over the coming 12 months temperature rises will be forced down to 1.5 degrees - as made crystal clear today by the EU's main climate negotiator, Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission. In other words, if the LMDCs have their way, COP26 will have failed.

So is that the bleak prospect that awaits?

It is too early for such pessimism. But at risk of being removed from the section is: 1) the first ever COP commitment to "accelerate the phasing-out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels", and 2) that new pledge I've mentioned to revisit national contributions to cutting global warming in 2022, perhaps to be replaced by a deadline of the end of 2023. In the end, much will be determined by the solidarity of poorer countries at greatest risk of climate disaster - because they have the moral clout to force into line the big fossil fuel economies led by China and America.

And those poorer countries would be more determined to be the decisive progressive force if: A) the richer ones finally deliver the £100bn a year to them of finance that was first promised in 2009; B) the rich countries permit a doubling in the proportion of that £100bn that would be available to adapt and protect poor countries' lands, economies and people; C) a further huge increase in transfers from the rich world to the poor world after 2025 is foreshadowed; D) the responsibility of the developed world to underwrite at least some of the climate losses being faced by the developing world is formally recognised. All of this is the stuff of negotiations that will extend well through the night and beyond, and it really matters.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Here is what bothers me, I've had a ringside seat too often in my career on talks that felt make-or-break for our prosperity and way of life, such as the banking bailouts of 2007/8, to the terms of Brexit, to that chaotic conversation between scientists and 10 Downing Street last March that gave us the Covid-19 lockdown. What's happening right now in Glasgow is more important. And only a reckless fool would assume success is assured.