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UN Climate Change Conference 2021 (by Private)

In just under a week, the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), also known as the COP26, will take place in Glasgow, Scotland. Beginning on the 31st of October, the COP26 will bring together political leaders, representatives from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and researchers from all over the world to discuss one of the absolute most pressing issues of our time: climate change. In the lead-up to the meeting, a number of alarming reports have been released, which all show with utmost clarity how urgent the situation is. While the majority of the world's leaders, and the population at large, seem to agree that drastic measures need to be taken in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep the average global temperature from increasing more than 1.5°C, few are willing to do anything to make that happen. In awareness of just how high the stakes are, some researchers at the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leaked parts of their climate report for fear that politicians might try to censor it before official publication. In this article, we will explore the past and present of the Climate Change Conferences, and try to ascertain whether we still have any hopes of turning the situation around. If anything, it should give you the push you need to hold your politicians accountable for the decisions they make, and force them to do everything to stop climate change – before it is too late.

The origins of the UNCCCs date back to 1995, where the first conference was held in Berlin, Germany. The conferences are connected to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was drafted at the so called Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, and established as an international treaty to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The conferences have been held every year since their inception, with the exception of last year's meeting, which was postponed to this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The name COP is short for Conference of the Parties, which is a term that refers to the supreme governing body of an international convention, and comprises representatives from all parties (nations) to the convention as well as accredited observers; in this case, for example environmental NGOs and climate change researchers. The goal of COPs is to review the implementation of a certain convention, and to make sure that it is effective. Over the years, the nature of the Climate Change Conferences have differed, with some mainly revolving around the discussion of technicalities, while others have resulted in more concrete promises of action.

As is to be expected when so many are involved at the negotiating table, the UNCCCs have at times been characterised by disagreements that have hindered any kind of significant progress in the area of climate change. The lines of division have often been drawn between poorer and richer countries, which are in completely different positions when it comes to their abilities to implement the measures required to combat climate change. So called developing countries have often argued that they should be allowed to keep emitting greenhouse gases on a large scale in order to allow them to progress in the same way and on the same conditions as so called developed countries have in the past, while developed countries are more inclined to argue that reducing emissions is everyone’s responsibility. These disagreements notwithstanding, some of the conferences have been successful in achieving consensus among the parties, enabling some action to be taken. The two most well-known international accords born out of the meetings are probably the Kyoto Protocol from 1997, and the Paris Agreement from 2015, which are both designed with a view to reduce emissions.

The Kyoto Protocol acknowledged the differentiated abilities of developed and developing countries to implement measures to combat climate change, and thus put the responsibility for reducing emissions solely on industrialised countries. The treaty has since been extended, with 37 countries pledging to further reduce emissions. One mechanism that was implemented as a result of the Kyoto Protocol is so called carbon emissions trading, which refers to the creation of a market where there are limited allowances for emissions. The system works through the setting of a total limit for emissions among all participating emitters. A central authority, such as the European Union, then issues permits for all participants, which allow a certain amount of carbon dioxide to be emitted. These permits can then be traded, so that those who pollute less are rewarded monetarily, while those who pollute more have to rely on the purchase of permits from others.

In contrast to the Kyoto Protocol’s focus on a few developed countries, the Paris Agreement requires all states to reduce emissions, with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions by the middle of the 21st century. While this sounds good in theory, a weakness of both of these accords is that they do not actually outline specific targets that are to be achieved within a certain time frame. Instead, it has been up to each country to pledge to reduce emissions, through so called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). The COP26 will be the first meeting in which all parties to the Paris Agreement are expected to commit to stricter emission targets, as outlined in the treaty text, which states that this needs to be done every five years. Known as the ratchet mechanism, this clause is meant both to foster an ambitious spirit and actually force states to increase their obligations in the area of climate change over time. While the Paris Agreement has been ratified by the vast majority of the world’s nations, it largely remains to be seen whether it will have any kind of effect. However, one thing is certain: At present, no one is doing nearly enough to be able to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which is what is required in order to keep global warming from becoming devastating.

While at least some politicians might still appear to be optimistic about what the 26th UNCCC can achieve, observers, activists, and most recently the British regent, Queen Elizabeth, who was caught saying that “it's really irritating when they [politicians] talk, but they don't do”, are convinced that the conference will just be another in the line of many “all talk, no action”-meetings held in the past. To make things even more discouraging, leaders of countries like China, Russia, and Brazil, which have some of the highest levels of emissions and pollution on the planet, are not even coming. This shows a clear disinterest in taking responsibility among these heads of government, which is a testament to the widespread unwillingness of those in charge to do anything about climate change. Measures to combat climate change are seen as inconvenient, in complete disregard of the much more severe “inconvenience” that an overheated planet would be sure to bring. Additionally, just a few days ago, it was revealed that a number of countries, including Norway, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Argentina, which are large exporters of oil, coal, and meat respectively, had actively tried to make researchers change the wording of the now leaked IPCC report, in order to make climate change appear less severe, and thus make it unnecessary to implement any radical changes. This clearly goes to show that incessant profit-making and pure capitalist greed always come before any consideration of the interest and well-being of humanity as a whole.

As if this was not enough, there is further reason to be pessimistic. An important part of the Climate Change Conferences is the participation of observers in the form of representatives from NGOs, including climate activists from across the globe, who hope to be able to push world leaders to take action. Many of these people will however not be able to attend, due not only to insufficient funding, but now also, because of the pandemic, lack of access to covid-19 vaccines and the presence of travel restrictions. These inequalities regarding ability to attend further reflect the inequalities when it comes to consequences of climate change. As of now, climate change affects people in low-income countries to a much larger extent, yet representatives from these countries will not be present at the negotiating table. Activists from the Global South, who experience the consequences of climate change (floods, droughts, storms...) on a daily basis, have always needed to fight to make the plight of their situation known to leaders in the Global North. Stripped of their voices, they will have zero chance of influencing decision-makers to implement the necessary measures. Therefore, it will be up to those who can actually attend to make sure that the conference will lead to concrete action.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little hope that this year’s edition of the UNCCC will bring about any new measures that will really be able to combat climate change. Nevertheless, in order not to fall into dystopian discourse about the coming apocalypse, we now turn to the question of what we as citizens can do to demand change. We are more than seven billion people on the planet, and we are all going to face the consequences of climate change sooner or later, which means that we all have an interest in preventing it from happening. As cynical as it sounds, the reality is that most people only start caring when things start hitting close to home. The extreme rainfall that hit parts of Europe this summer has opened up more people’s eyes to the devastating consequences of climate change, and given many a taste of what is to come unless drastic measures are implemented. While this is indeed sinister, instead of falling into the rabbit hole of negativity, we should see this as a golden opportunity to encourage more people to take action. There is strength in numbers, thus building large-scale alliances is key. The problem is that most people are passive; they belong to the so called silent majority who sit with a lot of power (at least in democracies where the leadership must be more or less legitimate), but do not do anything with it. While many climate activists do a tremendous job advocating for their cause, this is simply not enough. Citizens need to come together and start putting pressure on politicians to do something. As one researcher at Yale University suggests, people need to start becoming engaged in the issue, if not through marching in the streets, then through voting for environmental or green parties, which need be to be presented as the best option. Of course, individual action to reduce your carbon footprint is desirable, commendable, and should be encouraged, but in order to have any chance of succeeding, we need structural change, which can only be achieved through politics and collective action. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to use both your voice and your vote, if you are lucky enough to have them.

As we reach the end of this article, I had hoped to be able to deliver a more positive message than the alarming one issued by researchers and activists across the globe. Unfortunately, the reality is that prospects are looking very bleak. Unless something revolutionary happens now, we are well on our way towards a complete disaster. Given the recent rise in climate activism – protests, marches, civil disobedience – engaging millions of people across the globe, it is clear that the environment, and the future of our planet, is an issue that is highly important to citizens world-wide. This engagement needs to be channelled into concrete action that involves each and every one of us, creating a global force so strong that politicians will no longer be able to ignore the direness of the situation. Nothing will happen if we keep believing that it is impossible to create change, which is why the most important task ahead is to instil hope into people’s minds. After all, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement”. So, what are you waiting for? It is time to go out and make change happen.

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Celeb wrote on 28-10 22:42:
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Kpoplover1995 wrote on 26-10 22:45:
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Private wrote on 25-10 19:21:
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Private wrote on 25-10 16:56:
AtlantaG1912 wrote:
Love it, my only issue is the text is hard to read of the blue background as the text is black xx
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Private wrote on 25-10 15:13:
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