Today’s question: For people who’ve never been to a UN climate conference—what’s all this about texts, cover decisions, non-papers, and stocktakes, and how does all of that help get climate change under control?
The first thing you realize when you attend a UN climate conference like COP 26 is that the climate crisis has no borders—which means its solutions depend on “deep cooperation from all countries,” said Eddy Pérez, international climate diplomacy manager at Climate Action Network-Canada.
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“Essentially what we’re trying to do right now is to accelerate the process” to keep a 1.5°C climate future within reach, Pérez told The Energy Mix, in the latest edition of the #COP26TinyExplainers series. “Two degrees is too much. It’s too dangerous. So we actually focus on accelerating action,” to protect ourselves and each other from that harm.
The COP brings together delegates from wealthy countries like Canada—with lots of inequities at home, but more overall ability to deal with climate emergencies—with people “who are actually experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis in a much more amplified way than others,” Pérez explained. With negotiations speeding up in the final days of the conference, “what we try to do at this phase is to get countries to work together to uphold their responsibility. This is a United Nations space. This is a climate convention. But the opportunity is to hold governments accountable for what they need to do to respond to the climate crisis.”
The annual COP always follows the same rhythm we’ve witnessed over the last 11 days. In the first week, governments and other participants produce a flurry of announcements and commitments on the aspects of the climate crisis they say they want to address. Then the second week of technical negotiations looks at how all those general promises—or any of them—will fit into a final document that expresses the will of the 195 countries at the table.
That’s where the series of draft texts comes in, Pérez said. On Wednesday, in its role as COP President, the United Kingdom issued a draft document encompassing the points on which delegates have agreed—and the areas where they’re still far apart. The goal is to arrive at a final version that pushes what COP participants like to call climate “ambition”—the faster, deeper emission cuts and financing commitments that will start addressing a global emergency.
“We’re not there yet,” Pérez said Thursday morning. “We need to recognize that 1.5° limit. It’s not just about tonnes of emissions. It’s about protecting each other from harm, from the impacts of the climate crisis, and the text still has a lot to rejuggle to scale up those efforts.”
On Tuesday, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers held a media event on the sidelines of the conference (and we fact-checked the event here). The day before, the news broke that the global fossil lobby had 503 registered delegates at the COP—enough that it would have had the largest delegation if the industry were a country. We asked Pérez if those lobbyists were having an impact on negotiations.
“If they have 500 people here, I’m sure they’re busy,” he replied, adding that fossil companies “were not invited as an industry. So they decided to come in with badges from other groups,” or as members of national delegations.
When we spoke, a fossil fuel subsidy phaseout was in the draft text for the first time ever. “That means there are countries calling for it,” Pérez said. “And that will put pressure on countries that don’t want the kind of radical action the science is demanding. So I do expect that this will become a very difficult diplomatic battle in the coming days.”