On the 31st March 2021, the UK government will convene the Climate and Development Ministerial meeting to discuss practical next steps on priority issues for climate vulnerable countries and communities ahead of COP26. Professor Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, provides his insights on priorities in conversation with Professor Fiona Nunan.
Which major challenges facing low and middle-income countries should be addressed urgently at COP26?
Professor Huq suggests that one urgent issue is dealing with the realities of climate change, now we are living in a climate-changed world. The postponement of COP26 by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic placed a hold on climate talks but extreme climate events have continued to worsen. In the past year, he states, the world has surpassed a tipping point – human induced climate change has driven global temperatures up by over one degree centigrade. The result of this is manifesting itself in the form of more severe cyclones, typhoons, floods, hurricanes, as well as much more severe wildfires, notably in California and Australia. Prof. Huq cites super cyclonic storm Amphan, which caused widespread damage and fatalities in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Bhutan in May 2020, as an example of such extreme events that are directly attributable to the fact that atmospheric temperature has risen by more than one degree centigrade. He argues that urgent mitigation and adaptation is absolutely essential, but in order that COP26 does not become redundant we have to deal with the inevitable loss and damage that is now happening because of climate change.
On COP26’s proposed “step-change” in commitment to emission reduction, what highlights and limitations can we expect?
The UK leadership at COP26 has indicated a political prioritization of the proposed goals that could see them becoming transformative changes as opposed to incremental changes. Prof. Huq believes that the change in the US political landscape, placing John Kerry as US Special Envoy on Climate Change, is another strong signal of a shift in priorities and a heightened sense of urgency towards the commitment to emission reductions. On the other hand, different countries have varying targets and timelines for reaching net zero emissions, with some countries not having yet submitted their emission reduction plans. This accompanied by the failure of the Paris Agreement to produce the $100 billion pledge for climate adaptation for vulnerable countries, places a hindrance on the collective ability to meet these ambitious goals.
Three key areas of action needed
Prof. Huq identified three key areas of action that must be prioritised in the Climate and Development Ministerial Meeting on 31 March and feed into COP26 discussions. These are:
- All countries must take necessary actions to reduce emissions to keep global temperature increase within the 1.5oC goal agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement. More ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) are needed and these must be delivered on.
- The climate finance promised in previous COP meetings must be delivered and more of the funds should reach the most vulnerable countries to support adaptation. Far too much goes to less vulnerable, large middle-income countries to support mitigation measures, but at least 50% of the finance available should go to the most vulnerable countries to support adaptation.
- There must be more sharing of technical knowledge and capacity building in low- and middle-income countries. This is essential to support adaptation but also to help these countries by-pass emission generating industries to leapfrog to cleaner and accessible energy sources.
Prof. Huq concluded by observing that for COP26 to be a game-changing COP, much preparation needs to be done ahead of the meeting in November. Collective action, commitment and consensus must be facilitated by the UK Presidency, which cannot act in the UK interests, but in the interests of the current and future generations of the whole world.
Author: Serati Nthobatsang
Originally this blog was published on 1 March 2021 on The Forum for Global Challenges Website.