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The Cop26 global climate summit finally gets underway in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday 31 October, a gathering billed by Boris Johnson as amounting to nothing less than a “turning point for the world”.
Hosted by the UK under the presidency of former business secretary Alok Sharma and in partnership with Italy, the summit at the city’s SEC Centre will bring together the biggest gathering of world leaders ever assembled on British soil over the course of its 12-day run.
Its name refers to the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a pact signed by world leaders at the June 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, pledging to rein in “dangerous human interference with the climate system”.
All 197 signatories to the UNFCCC will be represented in Glasgow, along with tens of thousands of negotiators, government officials, businesses and activists, all hoping to make their voices heard and see a comprehensive plan drawn up to realise the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and avert the global climate catastrophe our planet faces.
What are the goals of the Paris Agreement?
The accord signed in the French capital was a legally-binding treaty drafted at Cop21 back in December 2015, which was signed the following April and intended as a successor to 1997’s Kyoto Protocol, the first major environmental agreement forged by the UNFCCC signatories.
It obliges its adherents to do their part to keep the global temperature rise forecast by the century’s end to well below 2C by dramatically reducing global greenhouse gas emissions and hitting net-zero by 2050.
Countries signed up to the Paris accord are committed to nationally-determined contributions (NDCs); individual emissions reductions targets tailored to their particular circumstances that are reviewed and reassessed every five years, a “ratchet mechanism” designed to keep the pressure up.
The Paris deal also provides pathways for more developed countries to help poorer ones, some of which are already bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, to reduce their emissions and adapt to a rapidly-changing world.
The consequences of the planet’s collective failure to address the worsening catastrophe are already becoming evident all around us: the melting of the polar ice caps, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, from severe drought and forest fires to flash flooding.
What is the latest data ahead of Cop26?
As things stand, current national emissions reductions commitments mean that the planet’s temperature is on course to rise to 2.7C by 2100, according to a new UN report, an outcome its authors said would be “catastrophic” should it come to pass.
In a brutal assessment, the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP) said that current plans to reduce carbon pollution amounted to little more than “weak promises, not yet delivered”.
“The G20 countries are responsible for 78 per cent of all emissions so the ‘to do item’ lies with them,” Inger Andersen, executive director of the UNEP, told Al Jazeera.
“The developed countries have a special responsibility to really step up, but actually everyone does - all 193 member states.”
The report found that current emissions reduction targets would shave 7.5 per cent off predicted 2030 levels, whereas a 55 per cent cut is needed to keep the planet’s temperature climb to 1.5C by the century’s end.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called the report “a thundering wake up call”.
“The emissions gap is the result of a leadership gap,” he said. “The era of half measures and hollow promises must end. The time for closing the leadership gap must begin in Glasgow.”
That warning followed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning in August that the global temperature rise could already be at 1.5C by 2030.
What does that mean for the summit?
All of the above places huge pressure on leaders attending Cop26 to agree to a landmark deal committing to even more ambitious goals - and there will certainly be no shortage of demonstrators on the streets of Glasgow, including Greta Thunberg and Sir David Attenborough, to remind them just how urgent the situation has become.
The summit’s specific stated concerns are: honouring the goals of the Paris accord; adapting to protect communities and natural habitats on the frontline of extreme weather events caused by global heating; ensuring the developed world drums up at least $100bn in climate finance every year; and agreeing conditions under which the world can work together to tackle the crisis as one.
The task of realising those aspirations has already been made more difficult with the news that Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese premier Xi Jinping are snubbing the event, sending deputies in their stead and appearing only via video conference.
The absence of the Queen, who is sitting out the conference on medical advice, will also be felt, as she would surely have played a vital diplomatic and ceremonial role.
The world will instead be looking to the likes of US president Joe Biden and his top climate envoy John Kerry to lead the talks and convince sceptics like Brazilian firebrand Jair Bolsonaro to play ball and make concessions for the greater good of the planet’s survival.