The UK is bidding to host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in 2020. The yearly meeting of UNFCCC member states constitutes the most important intergovernmental forum on climate change. The Paris Agreement, the outcome of COP21 in 2015, was a significant milestone in the history of the UNFCCC and has represented the continuing global consensus on international climate diplomacy and climate policy since it was ratified in 2016. In short, the Agreement is a pledge by UNFCCC member states to limit global heating to between 1.5°C and 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, which is to be achieved through nationally determined contributions (NDCs) in domestic and international policies. For example, the European Union’s NDC is to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from their 1990 levels by 2030.
Since the Agreement, subsequent COPs have reviewed implementation progress across its signatories. However, COP26 will be the first of its planned quinquennial “global stocktakes”. These are opportunities for member states to re-evaluate their NDCs against more recent climate science and strengthen commitments to new and existing plans. This is especially important given the aggregate of the NDCs are predicted to underperform against the Agreement’s target. Climate Action Tracker, an organisation that assesses climate policies, estimates that current pledges under the Agreement would limit global heating to around 3°C, far beyond the intended maximum of 2°C. This has prompted calls that the Agreement is a failure. However, the Agreement breaks ground in climate policy with the long-term framework it has introduced. The 2020 stocktake represents another step towards structured global action that had proven elusive until the Agreement.
Claire Perry has been appointed president of COP26 in the UK’s bid to host the meeting. She was previously Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Perry’s tenure at BEIS saw the creation of the global Powering Past Coal Alliance of national and local governments and businesses working to phase-out unabated coal power. She also played a role in the introduction of a 2050 net-zero emissions target in the UK, the first such target to be adopted by a country.
Nick Fedson MEng MSc
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