As the G20 continues in Rome on Sunday morning, a pivotal UN conference on climate change is finally getting underway.
The 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change — known as COP26 — was postponed last year due to the pandemic.
World leaders will be attending the annual event, with many G20 leaders scheduled to travel to Glasgow after the Rome summit concludes. No world leaders are expected to speak during the opening day of COP26.
A lot of the discussions during the climate summit will take place among ministers and other high-level officials working on climate issues.
Why COP26 matters:
The conferences are massive events with a lot of side meetings that attract people from the business sector, fossil fuel companies, climate activists and other groups with a stake in the climate crisis. Some of them are successful — the Paris Agreement was hammered out during COP21, for example — and some are painfully unproductive.
More than 190 countries signed onto the Paris Agreement after the COP21 meeting in 2015, to limit the increase in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but preferably to 1.5 degrees.
Half a degree may not sound like a huge difference, but scientists say any additional warming past 1.5 degrees will trigger more intense and frequent climate extremes. For example, limiting warming to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees could result in around 420 million fewer people being frequently exposed to extreme heatwaves, according to the UN.
Scientists see 2 degrees as a critical threshold where extreme weather would render some of the world’s most densely populated areas into uninhabitable deserts or flood them with sea water.
Although the Paris Agreement was a landmark moment in the quest to address the climate crisis, it didn’t include details on how the world would achieve its goal. The subsequent COPs have sought to make the plans attached to it more ambitious and to detail courses of action.
“On paper, the Paris Agreement was always designed as a cyclical process — ‘see you in five years, with better plans and renewed efforts,'” said Lola Vallejo, the climate program director at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. “So right now, we are at this deadline, pushed back by Covid.
Ahead of the opening of COP26 United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued a dire warning on Friday. He said that “there is a serious risk that (the Glasgow conference) will not deliver “because the formal commitments by governments so far still fall short, and even “under the best-case scenario, temperatures will still rise well above two degrees.”
Guterres urged greater ambition on mitigation, and ambition on climate finance.