News World COP26: Here’s what you need to know about the UN climate summit

COP26: Here’s what you need to know about the UN climate summit

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The United Nations climate summit is days away and Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to attend on behalf of Australia.

Controversy has surrounded the climate action plan our nation’s leader intends to take to the world stage, but what is the big deal about COP26?

Here’s everything you need to know about the conference and why it matters to Australia.

What is COP26?

In simple terms, it is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (the last one was in Paris in 2015).

‘COP’ is an acronym for Conference of the Parties and refers to the representatives who have signed on to a number of treaties.

For example, the Paris Agreement. And in this case, also the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which was established in 1994.

What’s different this year?

The key difference for this summit is an understanding that urgent action is needed: The goal is net zero by 2050.

In the last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed for the first time that the crisis is “unequivocally” caused by humans.

With global temperatures likely to rise more than 1.5 degrees by 2040, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has deemed it a “code red for humanity”.

What are the goals?

Around 70 per cent of the global economy has committed to net zero, according to the UN. With that in mind, the COP26 conference has four main goals.

  1. Secure global net zero and keep 1.5 degrees within reach:  Nations have been asked to bring ambitious 2030 targets to the event, on track to reach net zero by 2050.
  2. Adapt to protect communities and habitats: They will also submit a summary of how their countries plan to adapt to climate change, where they need help and the challenges they expect to face.
  3. Mobilise finance: In 2009, wealthy countries promised to raise $100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020 to help the nations most affected by climate change. Confirming that money will be key.
  4. Work together to deliver: The COP26 aims to finalise the Paris Rulebook – a list of actions outlined in the Paris Agreement. The key word here is deliver. In the spirit of ‘let’s get it done’.

Where and when is the COP26 being held?

The conference will be held at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12.

The venue was chosen because of its commitment to going carbon neutral by 2030 as well as its world-class facilities.

The SEC has won the Gold Green Tourism Award, while Glasgow places fourth on the Global Destination Sustainability Index.

Who will be there?

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be among around 190 delegates to attend the summit, after some earlier uncertainty about his plans.

Meanwhile the Queen, who was planning to go, has been forced to stay home due to ill health.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is skipping the summit.

Will it be more talk, no action?

COP President-Designate Alok Sharma is optimistic this summit will be focused on enacting plans and confirming finance.

“For those countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change  who are already seeing their homes disappear under water and their crops decimated by drought – COP26 simply can’t be another talking shop,” Mr Sharma wrote in an official COP26 pamphlet. 

He also mentioned the 2009 promise to raise billions for affected nations and said donors need to commit those funds.

Australia will be judged on how it plans to help raise money as well as its emissions targets.

ipcc australia
Australia faces a black future if the climate crisis isn’t brought under control. Photo: TND

How does Australia’s plan stack up?

While Australia does have a climate action plan to bring to the table, many are concerned it does not stack up against those of its allies.

The US and Britain, for example, have both committed to more ambitious targets.

Mr Biden’s clean energy plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by up to 52 per cent by 2030.

While Mr Johnson has committed Britain to cutting its carbon emissions 78 per cent by 2035, and plans to end coal-fired power by 2024.

Meanwhile, Australia’s plan is to cut emissions 35 per cent by 2030.

Why should we care?

Australia is one of the biggest exporters of fossil fuels and is among the highest per capita emitters in the world.

In the 2021 Sustainable Development Report, it ranked last for climate action out of UN members.

The Climate Action Tracker rates Australia “highly insufficient”.

In 2019/2020 Australians spent Christmas and the New Year in evacuation centres as homes and businesses burned to the ground.

They lost loved ones and property to the Black Summer bushfires, while natural habitats were destroyed and wildlife killed or displaced.

The world watched.

Australia’s envoy is now preparing to present a plan to combat the proven cause of that devastation, and more to come in the future.

Reducing emissions is the base line for combatting these negative effects, yet Australia has committed to doing substantially less than its allies.