‘We must get serious. And we must act fast,’ U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said recently, noting that the world is ‘seemingly light-years away’ from meeting its climate goals
By Brady Dennis for The Washington Post - October 26, 2021
Tens of thousands of people from every corner of the globe are preparing to gather in Glasgow, Scotland, for a two-week United Nations summit that could shape how — and whether — the world effectively slows climate change in the years ahead. Here are answers to some key questions about the talks:
Since 1995, world leaders have met annually to hash out how to tackle climate change. This fall marks the 26th gathering of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Or, because that’s a mouthful, COP26.
Beginning Oct. 31, delegates from nearly 200 nations are expected to descend on Glasgow, the site of this year’s summit. The two weeks of talks have an overarching goal: to put the world on a path to aggressively cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow Earth’s warming.
But the negotiators won’t be alone. Environmental groups, scientists, business leaders, diplomats and journalists will show up as well. And climate protesters are planning to arrive in force to demand that world leaders match their rhetoric with action.
Government leaders at the summit, which was delayed a year by the coronavirus pandemic, will find themselves facing pressure to make bolder and more-concrete promises than they have in the past.
The 'best last chance' to tackle climate change is happening in Glasgow, Scotland
Nearly 200 nations are gathering in Glasgow, Scotland for the U.N. climate summit, COP26.
How is this related to the Paris agreement?
COP26 is where the messy details and unfulfilled promises of the Paris agreement will get hashed out.
Some brief history: In late 2015, the nations of the world agreed to work together to limit the warming of the planet to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared with preindustrial levels — and, if possible, to stop at 1.5 Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s a daunting goal, given that the world has already warmed more than 1 degree Celsius, with some spots already eclipsing 2 degrees Celsius.
The Paris accord created a voluntary framework meant to ensure that countries transparently report their greenhouse gas emissions, that carbon markets function fairly and that the rich nations most responsible for climate change help fund projects so poorer countries can cope with the impacts of global warming.
Six years later, all of that remains a work in progress.
How has the world done so far in meeting the goals of the Paris agreement?
Frankly, not great.
The world has already warmed roughly 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century, meaning there isn’t much wiggle room left to halt global warming at 1.5 Celsius — the most ambitious goal set in Paris.
According to a report this summer from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, humans can unleash only about 500 additional gigatons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of about 10 years of current global emissions — to have an even chance of hitting that target.
If the world rapidly phases out fossil fuels, massively ramps up renewable energy and enhances the natural systems such as forests that can pull carbon from the air, scientists say, the Earth’s warming will stabilize.
Shifting markets and pledges by some leaders to act faster have begun to move the world away from an even more disastrous path. But as the Glasgow summit draws near, nations have yet to act quickly and aggressively enough to avoid dangerous consequences.
A recent U.N. analysis found that even if nations met their current promises, the globe would still be on pace to experience an average temperature rise of 2.7 Celsius by the end of the century — a path U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has described as “catastrophic.”
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Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Agios Stefanos, in northern Athens, in August. (Thanassis Stavrakis/AP)