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 COP27 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP27? 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.

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

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 COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the conference, after initially saying he wouldn't as he was too busy focusing on the economy within his first weeks in office.

  • US President Joe Biden and his experienced climate envoy, John Kerry, will appear at the talks.

  • France President Emmanuel Macron will also be among the heads of state from around the world staying in Egypt.

King Charles III will not be attending COP27, despite being a staunch advocate for the environment. The decision was made jointly by Buckingham Palace and former prime minister Liz Truss.

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not attend the talks just as they decided to do for COP26.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and putting negotiations into concrete actions - included within this is the target of limiting global warming to well below 2C.

2. Cementing progress on the critical workstreams of mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage, while stepping up finance notably to tackle the impacts of climate change.

3. Enhancing the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the UN Climate Change process.

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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.