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Everything to look out for in week two at Cop26 as crunch talks continue


Week one of Cop26 is over – many of the world’s leaders have left, Greta Thunberg has gone home, but the world still doesn’t know exactly what has been agreed, whether it will prevent the worst elements of the climate crisis, and how policies will affect populations.

While major deals have been trumpeted by the British government on reforestation and ending coal use, there remain major concerns over the gaps between countries’ commitments to fossil fuel reductions and the rate at which they must be brought down to prevent temperatures rising 1.5C above the pre-industrial era.

Before we know exactly how Cop26 will go down in the annals of history, there’s a whole second week of meetings, debates and negotiations to be hammered out, all of which could still be highly impactful.

Here’s what to look out for in week two of Cop26:

Barack Obama

Barack Obama has flown into the conference for Monday’s “adaptation, loss and damage” day, which is about what practical solutions are needed to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Speaking on a panel, he applauded island nations for “stepping up and being heard”.

Mr Obama said “we have not done enough” and the islands “are threatened more than ever”.

Controversies

With more breathing space as the number of high-level announcements from world leaders die down, journalists are looking more closely at the successes and more importantly, the limitations of the conference.

On Monday it was reported that if the fossil fuel industry was a country, it would have more delegates at Cop26 than any other, with over 500 representatives present to put forward and lobby the industry’s viewpoint on the crisis they’ve been instrumental in causing.

Green MP Caroline Lucas said it was like inviting “an arsonist to a firefighters’ convention”.

“Only it’s not one arsonist, it’s more than 500,” she tweeted, adding that it made “a mockery of announcements about net zero”.

Countries not on board

Ahead of the summit, leaked documents gave us a flavour of which countries have considerable reservations about the methods and speeds by which greenhouse gas emissions are cut.

At the beginning of week two, it has emerged that Saudi Arabia’s negotiating team has moved to block key elements contained in the so-called “cover decision” for the final text from Glasgow – in particular on accelerating action to “keep 1.5C alive”.

This text is the top line message which comes from each Cop summit, and signals what the final outcome means for the world. According to Greenpeace, the absence of any cover decision at all “would cripple that effort and critically undermine the outcome in Glasgow”.

Greenpeace International director Jennifer Morgan said of Saudi Arabia: “They’re at the chess board, manipulating the pieces in an effort to stop an outcome that keeps 1.5C within reach.” She described it as “a textbook effort to strip ambition from the final text”.

As negotiators work to put out what they, and many governments hope will be a breakthrough text, watch out for other players who are reluctant to see that occur.

Nature-based solutions

While the first week saw the announcement of a global aim to reverse deforestation over the next decade, this week the conference will devote more time to adaptation methods.

Those who are championing nature’s role in addressing the climate crisis will be aiming to highligh how the climate crisis and the biodiversity crisis go hand in hand and how protecting nature results in protecting and supporting the climate, and vice-versa.

Expanding forests will clean the air and support greater levels of biodiversity; rewilding projects can deliver climate gains, from sequestering carbon in trees and peat bogs, to mangroves defending coastlines; while wildlife reintroductions can improve the function of ecosystems to boost vegetation, prevent flooding and reduce the impact of heatwaves.

British government spinning the conference as a huge success

It is hardly likely Boris Johnson is going to say “we gave it our best shot, but it didn’t work out”. Instead watch out for the government’s attempts to instil a sense of “mission accomplished” towards the end of the summit.

While the UK government cannot be responsible for the administrations of other states, the host nation is responsible for laying the groundwork, building enthusiasm, and momentum, and leading by example, all of which have been repeatedly called into question ahead of the Glasgow summit.

Boris Johnson has talked down the summit’s chance of success at limiting temperatures, and his government failed to take meaningful action on proposed coal and oil developments in the UK, meanwhile, he flew home from the conference on a private plane to meet a well-known climate science denier for dinner amid allegations of widespread government sleaze.

One key yardstick by which to measure the government’s success is on coal – the dirtiest of all fossil fuels and the biggest contributor to global emissions.

Ahead of the conference, Cop26 president Alok Sharma said he wanted to bring an “end to coal”, saying: “We need governments to make those strong, clear commitments to end polluting coal generation and prioritise clean power.”

In the end, a large group – 190 countries – have signed up to a pledge to phase out their coal usage, including some major emitters such as Poland and Vietnam, however, even bigger coal states – India, China, Russia and Australia, were not among the signatories to the pledge, meaning the world is not yet on course to see the end of coal.

Campaigners saying the conference has failed

Towards the end of week two a growing consensus on the successes and failures of the conference will emerge.

There are many criteria by which to judge the summit, but one is key – will the progress made by countries since Paris 2015, and their plans to 2030, put the world on course for net-zero emissions by 2050? This is the course required to keep average temperatures from rising 1.5C above the pre-industrial era.

As we head into week two, so far the answer appears to be: no.

But does that failure mean the summit was pointless? Absolutely not. As Greta Thunberg said ahead of the conference: “If we can’t keep the global average temperature rises to below 1.5, then we do 1.6, and 1.7 and so on. We can always prevent things from getting worse. It’s never too late to do as much as we can.”

Nonetheless, she has been particularly unimpressed by the talks so far, dubbing the summit a “global north greenwash festival”.

Rick Saines, one of the architects of the Paris agreement told The Independent there was still much to be done to bring emissions down. “We’re not there yet, and we probably won’t be there at the end of this Cop,” he said.

But he also said the whole structure of the Paris climate agreement is essentially “a perpetually self-improving system”.

“Every five years you check in, update, you enhance, you reflect on what needs to be done and you track where we’re being successful and where we’re not. We need to call it out when we’re not.”

Official discussion points

The remaining discussion points for the summit are as follows:

Monday:

Adaptation, Loss and Damage – Looking at the practical solutions needed to adapt to climate impacts and address loss and damage.

Tuesday:

Gender

This will focus on progressing gender equality and the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action.

Science and innovation – examining how science and innovation can deliver climate solutions to meet, and accelerate, increased ambition.

Wednesday:

Transport – the role transport must play in the race to net-zero

Thursday:

Cities, Regions and Built Environment – How greater action can be undertaken in the places we live.

Friday:

Close of the conference. Don’t get burnt by all the hot takes whizzing about.

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