Europe lays out battle plan for COP26 climate summit

The European Union will aim to convince other countries to raise their climate ambition at the COP26 summit opening on Sunday in Glasgow. Here’s how.

The first milestone on the way to Glasgow is the G20 summit of the world’s largest economies, taking place on 30-31 October in Rome.

“These 20 largest economies also represent 80% of the emissions worldwide. And therefore we have a special responsibility to act,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who briefed journalists in Brussels on Thursday (28 October).

The G20 “will somehow be a pacemaker for the COP26,” von der Leyen explained, calling on world leaders in Rome to agree “credible commitments for decarbonisation to reach the goal of net zero mid-century”.

“We are not on track right now,” she warned. “We need sufficient commitments to really cut emissions this decade. Science is very clear on that. Science tells us it’s urgent.”

Raising ambition

Earlier this week, the United Nations published its 2021 Emissions Gap Report, warning that the planet faces a disastrous 2.7°C rise in temperature if national climate pledges are not stepped up.

World nations would shave carbon emissions by only about 7.5% by 2030 under current pledges, far less than the 45% cut scientists say is needed to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C, the UN report said.

While Europe, the US, Japan, and the UK have all stepped up their climate commitments ahead of Glasgow, other major emitters like India, China, Russia, and Australia are still lagging behind.

“These are all countries that can make a difference in terms of the overall emissions level in 2030, so for me this is a key test,” said Antony Froggatt from Chatham House, a UK think tank who spoke at a recent EURACTIV event.

Alok Sharma, the incoming COP26 President, said: “There has been progress, but not enough. That is why we especially need the biggest emitters, the G20 nations, to come forward with stronger commitments to 2030 if we are to keep 1.5C in reach over this critical decade,” he said.

With its Climate Law agreed earlier this year, and concrete plans to cut emissions 55% by 2030, the EU will go to COP26 with the status of global leader on climate change.

At a summit last week, the EU’s 27 heads of states urged other countries to come forward with similarly ambitious climate targets and related policies to implement them.

“It is essential to keep the 1.5°C global warming limit within reach,” EU leaders said in a statement adopted last Friday (22 October), urging “major economies that have not yet done so” to update their UN climate pledges in time for COP26 “and to present long-term strategies towards reaching net zero emissions by 2050”.

China is expected to announce its updated climate goal – the so-called ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ – before the G20, according to EU sources in Brussels.

Closing the gap on climate finance

But getting all G20 countries on board – including developing countries like Brazil, Indonesia or Mexico – will require additional climate finance from rich countries, von der Leyen stressed.

“We are making progress, but I think we have to try harder,” she said, referring to a recent report showing that rich nations will meet their pledge of mobilising $100 billion per year for developing countries only in 2023.

“We should look at providing the $100 billion already next year,” von der Leyen insisted, saying that closing that gap is “a question of credibility” for rich nations which bear the responsibility for global warming.

The EU and its 27 member states are already the largest contributor to climate finance, with more than $25 billion per year, the Commission president said, adding that she expected the total number to go up in the coming days.

“I pledged a top-up of $5 billion till 2027, expecting others also to increase the ambition,” she said.

Last week, EU leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to scale up climate finance to developing nations, and called “on other developed countries to urgently increase their contribution to the collective climate finance goal of $100 billion per year through to 2025”.

EU initiatives: Methane, forests and clean tech cooperation

In Glasgow, the EU will take part in a series of initiatives aimed at building trust with other major emitters and developing countries.

  • First is the Global Methane Pledge. Announced earlier this month, the EU-US pledge aims to reduce methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030. “I’m glad that by now 60 countries joined us so far,” von der Leyen said, encouraging others to join.
  • Second is a financial contribution of €1 billion to the Global Forest pledge, which includes €250 million for the Congo Basin.
  • Third, is an initiative on innovation with US billionaire Bill Gates called the “Breakthrough Energy catalyst”. The idea, von der Leyen explained, is to scale up markets for technologies such as green hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuels, CCS, and energy storage technologies.
  • Fourth, is a just energy transition partnership with South Africa. Led by the US, the UK, Germany and France, the partnership will help South Africa phase out coal earlier and speed up the deployment of renewables. “We’re still working on that. But I am confident that we are going to launch this new proposal and then this partnership ship could become a template on how to support just transitions around the globe,” von der Leyen said.

Paris rulebook

Finally, Glasgow will attempt to finalise a rulebook on international carbon markets – the so-called Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

The key question there is “how are we measuring successes or steps forward in cutting emissions,” including the carbon offsets from forestry, von der Leyen explained.

Countries and private companies engaging in international carbon trading schemes must “ensure that such trading does not result in the double counting of emissions reductions,” the European Commission said in a statement.

This includes “additional rules” to establish “a new international mechanism for the certification of carbon offsets” and “avoiding the use of past emissions reductions to undermine current and future ambition,” the statement said.

5-year review cycle

The European Union thrashed out its position for COP26 earlier this month. Meeting in Luxembourg on 6 October, the EU’s 27 environment ministers supported a proposal that all countries increase their national climate goals every five years – rather than every 10 – in light of the latest science.

However, the five-year cycle was agreed “from 2031 onwards” and “only in the case all parties would be required to do so” as well – a stance that was adopted due to reluctance from the EU’s Eastern member states.

Campaigners said this weakens the EU’s stance at COP26, and serves as an uneasy reminder of the failed Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, where the European Union only committed to increase its climate target if other countries did the same.

Green critics also point out that the EU’s climate target for 2030 – a 55% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels – is not enough to put the EU on track to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

Global emissions need to fall by 7.6% annually until 2030 to reach the 1.5°C target in the Paris Agreement, according to the United Nations’ Emissions Gap report.

That would require a 65% emissions cut in Europe by 2030, according to environmental NGOs.


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