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  • Writer's pictureCol Ashokan K

What is COP26, why it is important & India’s role at the climate change conference

COP26 is being held in Glasgow from 31 October-12 November. The COP is an annual summit under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a global agreement signed in 1992, between 197 countries (or parties) to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. The COP is the supreme decision-making body that comes together to negotiate how to implement the Convention. The COP26 was supposed to be held last year but it could not take place due to the Covid pandemic.

Significance of COP 26

It is considered one of the most significant to date because countries are expected to dedicate even more resources to fight climate change since the Paris Agreement, a legally binding global treaty dedicated to keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

The COP & the agreements

The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995, three years after the UNFCCC was signed, and has happened in a new part of the world ever since. Over the years, the COP has given birth to some of the most important legal instruments and guidelines on curbing climate change.

At the third COP in Kyoto, Japan, countries adopted the Kyoto Protocol, a landmark agreement in which 37 countries were legally bound to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent compared to 1990 levels. It only came into force in 2006, after 55 countries ratified the agreement. The US, the biggest emitter (responsible for 35 per cent of all emissions at the time), refused to sign the agreement, which expired in 2012.

The Paris Agreement, mentioned above, has so far been the most significant outcome of COP negotiations since it is near-universal (197 parties have signed the pact). Countries came up with nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that they would have to achieve by 2030. These NDCs are reviewed and revised every five years, as per the agreement.

China, the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide today, pledged to peak emissions before 2030, reduce carbon intensity by 65 per cent below 2005 levels, increase installed capacity of wind and solar energy by 1,200 GW, and increase forest stock by 6 million cubic meters.

India, the third-largest emitter, made three promises: To reduce emissions intensity economy-wide by 33 to 35 per cent below 2005 levels, to generate 40 per cent of electricity from renewable energy sources, and to create a carbon sink capable of absorbing 2.5 to 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (through additional forest and tree cover).

Issues and points of contention

Although countries manage to draft and sign agreements, it isn’t always easy. Several contentious issues, including climate finance and net zero emissions targets, are also expected to come up during the COP26.

In 2009, at the 15th COP, it was decided that developed countries would deliver $100 billion to developing countries by 2020 to help manage climate mitigation and adaptation since lower-income countries will likely face the brunt of climate change. At COP21, this commitment was reiterated and extended for a period of five years, till 2025.

Another point of contention is that of net zero emissions targets, whereby the same amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted due to human activity is removed from the atmosphere. Both China and the US have committed to net zero targets by 2060 and 2050, respectively. PM Modi announced that India will be carbon neutral by 2070.

Historical emissions refer to emissions that have accumulated for centuries, since the industrial revolution. The US is the biggest historical emitter, accounting for 20 per cent of global emissions today, according to Carbon Brief.

China is also not a historical emitter but began emitting heavily during the turn of the century, leading it to be the source of 11 per cent of global emissions today. India, meanwhile, accounts for 3.4 per cent of the global emissions.

How India has navigated international agreements

The NDCs that countries come up with are either conditional (contingent upon foreign funding, for example) or unconditional. India’s renewable energy target is contingent upon foreign funding. Two initiatives, in particular, have helped India reach its pre-2030 goals.

In November 2015, PM Modi and former French president Francois Hollande launched the International Solar Alliance (ISA), aimed at promoting solar energy across the world and deploying solar energy at affordable costs, at COP21 in Paris. ISA hopes to get political backing for its proposed One Sun One World One Grid, a trans-national solar power grid that could drive down the need for solar storage and reduce the costs of the energy transition, at COP26.

“At COP-26, the Parties will work to achieve the completion of Paris Agreement implementation guidelines; the mobilization of climate finance; actions to strengthen climate adaptation, technology development and transfer; and keeping in reach the Paris Agreement goals of limiting the rise in global temperatures,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement last week announcing the PM’s visit.

Five Point Agenda declared by PM Modi at the Global Conference:

1. The PM said the first agenda was to raise the non-fossil fuel based energy capacity of the country to 500 GW by 2030.

2. Also, by 2030, 50% of the country’s energy requirements would be met using renewable energy sources.

3. The country will reduce the total projected carbon emission by one billion tonnes between now and the year 2030.

4. The carbon intensity of the economy would be reduced to less than 45% by 2030, Modi said as the fourth point.

5. As the final agenda, he said the country would become carbon neutral and achieve net zero emissions by the year 2070.

The PM also called upon developed economies to make $1 trillion available for climate financing. “India expects developed countries to make $1 trillion available as climate finance as soon as possible.

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