We’ve put together a helpful list of terms and what they mean as COP26 gets underway:
The Paris agreement
In December 2015, this marked the first time that both developed and developing countries agreed to limit greenhouse gases in order to stay within set temperature limits. The main goal of the Paris agreement is to limit global heating to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to stay within the lower, safer threshold of 1.5C. Countries set out targets to stay within those limits, in the form of nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
Nationally determined contributions are national plans containing targets on emissions cuts, usually pegged to 2030, and some details on how they will be met.
The Paris agreement contains two key goals, of limiting global heating to “well below” 2C, while “pursuing efforts” to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.
This basically means reducing greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and then offsetting any remaining irreducible emissions.
Mitigation in this context always means the reduction or offsetting of greenhouse gas emissions.
(Also sometimes known as resilience.) The world has already warmed by 1.1-1.2C above pre-industrial levels, and some of the impacts of the current heating are irreversible, so even if we succeed in cutting emissions drastically, we will still need to adapt to the impacts of more extreme weather. Infrastructure, including transport, telecommunications networks, housing and rural areas will need to be adapted and protected, for instance by building railways less likely to buckle in the heat or roads less likely to melt, and building houses that will not overheat.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The body of the world’s leading climate scientists, first convened by the UN and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988, has produced five comprehensive assessment reports since, each increasing in certainty and reinforcing the message that the climate crisis, caused by human actions that increase the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, is accelerating.
One of the key areas still to be resolved at COP26 is article 6 of the Paris agreement, which provides for the use of carbon markets. Countries are divided over the plans: there are concerns that some carbon credits are just “hot air” because they do not result in genuine emissions reductions; and concerns that under some proposals carbon credits could be counted twice.
Developing countries were promised, at the Copenhagen Cop in 2009, that they would receive at least $100bn a year in climate finance from 2020, from public and private sector sources, to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the impacts of extreme weather. That promise was not met: OECD estimates, published in September, showed that climate finance in 2019 amounted to about $80bn, well short of the target.