Political Leadership Is Needed for Success at COP26 – Ovais Sarmad

UN Climate Change News, 25 June 2021 – The progress made at the May-June UN Climate Change Conference leaves the international community “well positioned to achieve success” at the crucial UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November, according to UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary, Ovais Sarmad.

But political will and leadership is required to reach consensus on key sticking points, and nations must make use of key political opportunities before COP26 so that the conference can be a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change.

“I feel there is a new enthusiasm and a new momentum around international climate action that we haven’t experienced since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. There is a renewed appetite for progress,” Mr. Sarmad said, adressing the Chatham House virtual conference ‘Climate Change 2021’.

The Deputy UN Climate Change Chief outlined four key elements for success at COP26. These are:

  • Wrapping up outstanding negotiations;
  • Raising ambition to reduce emissions, adapt to climate impacts and to provide finance to close existing gaps between global expectations and political commitments;
  • Re-engaging with civil society and non-Party stakeholders in a unity of purpose;
  • Delivering on the pledge by developed countries to mobilize USD 100 billion annually to support developing nations.

According to Mr. Sarmad, the biggest sticking point in the UN climate change negotiations is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement related to carbon markets.

However, a successful COP26 implies more than getting one or two big decisions. “It will mean that nations must achieve a balanced package of decisions reflecting expectations, concerns and needs of all stakeholders in multiple areas,” he said.

Tough Decisions needed to reach 1.5 C degrees Paris goal

Mr. Sarmad said that whilst countries are still far from achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 C degrees above pre-industrial levels, there is potential for advancement towards this goal.

“We can talk about overcoming differences and we can talk about urgency, but it’s simply talk unless leaders make the tough decisions necessary to bridge existing gaps and reach consensus;” he said.

“With respect to current obstacles, we know the contentious issues. We also know the options on the table. What we need are political decisions to be made. There are opportunities for these decisions and this leadership in the next few months leading up to COP26,” he added.

Key opportunities include the UN General Assembly in September, the pre-COP series of discussions that will take place in Milan from 30 September to 2 October, and the G20 Summit that will be held in Rome in October.

“It’s crucial that the message coming from the G20 countries, responsible for 80% of global emissions, is one of specific commitments and rising global climate ambition,” Mr. Sarmad said.

He also highlighted the signs of optimism and transformation in the private sector, best reflected in the global Race to Zero campaign, which works to mobilise governments, businesses and civil society to achieve full carbon neutrality as quickly as possible and at the latest by 2050, with more than 4,500 companies, cities, regions, financial, educational and healthcare institutions having joined since its inception a year ago.

Finally, the UN Climate Change Deputy Head stressed that the work of the UN Climate Change secretariat extends well beyond COP26, given that the role of the secretariat is to keep the focus of the international community on the longer-term goals of the Paris Agreement. This work covers long-term climate action strategies and the Global Stock Take, with the first such stocktaking exercise happening from 2021 to 2023 and feeding into the process of updated national climate action plans for 2025.

See full speech below:

It’s a pleasure to speak with such a distinguished group…

…and to have this opportunity to talk about where we stand following the recently concluded three weeks of climate discussions, how they fit into this pivotal year, and how this ultimately impacts success at COP26 and beyond.

The recent June climate change sessions were described as “informal” discussions – but little in the last year feels “informal”. COVID-19 has devastated families, cities and economies, and has significantly altered the trajectory of national plans. The reverberations will likely last decades.

For years, experts have theorized about what a truly modern global crisis would look like. Now that we’re living through one, nobody wants to see another.

Yet the science clearly indicates that climate change could potentially have a far greater negative impact on humanity than COVID-19.

So, I assure you that all discussions regarding climate change at the international level in 2021 – whether with Ministers, Parties, non-Party observers, civil society or others – are always against a backdrop of the most profound urgency.

I recognize that addressing climate change has always been urgent. I also recognize progress has not always reflected it. Nations still haven’t implemented the Paris Agreement, they’re still far from its 1.5C goal, and levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to rise.

Momentum is building

And yet, I feel there is a new enthusiasm and a new momentum around international climate action that we haven’t experienced since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. There is a renewed appetite for progress.

A number of virtual Climate Dialogues were held over the past months:

  • The UNFCCC June 2020 Momentum for Climate Change.
  • The UNFCCC November 2020 Climate Dialogues.
  • In December, the Climate Ambition Summit 2020, hosted by United Nations, United Kingdom and France.
  • In January 2021, the Climate Adaptation Summit hosted by the Netherlands.
  • In April 2021 the new US administration Leaders’ Summit on Climate Change, and the US rejoining the Paris Agreement.
  • And the UNFCCC SB sessions in June that just recently concluded.

Reaching consensus on key issues however, remained elusive. The biggest sticking point continues to be Article 6 of the Paris Agreement related to carbon markets.

It was encouraging that the G7 committed to keeping the projected global temperature rise to 1.5C – as the goal established in the Paris Agreement – and the commitment to phase out coal at home and stop financing coal overseas.

It was also encouraging that the G7 reaffirmed the collective goal of developed countries to jointly mobilize $100 billion annually from public and private sources, through to 2025.

Race to Zero

Governments, of course, cannot address climate change on their own. All sectors of society have a key role to play.

While an incredible amount of work remains, we’ve also seen signs of optimism and transformation in the private sector.

This is perhaps best reflected in Race to Zero campaign, which works to mobilize governments, businesses and civil society to achieve carbon neutrality as quickly as possible.

In just one year since its launch, more than 4,500 companies, cities, regions, financial, educational and healthcare institutions that have joined.

The campaign now includes 40 per cent of FTSE100 companies, almost 1000 cities and more than 600 educational institutions committed to credible climate action.

Renewable energy is another area for optimism and its growth – maintained even through COVID – has exceeded expectations.

And electric cars are no longer a novelty project for carmakers, but central to their long-term success and plans. Soon, we’ll look at gasoline-powered cars as we would a Model-T: novel but a relic of the past.

That’s what momentum looks like.

Compared to just one year ago, it’s clear we are well positioned to achieve success at COP26 later this year in Glasgow. Let’s now turn to what success will look like.

SUCCESS AT COP26

COP success means four things.

First, it means promises made must be promises kept.

That means pledges Parties made before 2020 must be honored and completed.

This is especially true of the pledge by developed nations to mobilize $100 billion annually to developing nations by 2020. It’s a matter of trust and integrity.

Second, wrap up outstanding negotiations.

It’s time to wrap up outstanding negotiations and implement the Paris Agreement.

Its adoption was an incredible multilateral success for the world, but adoption is not the same thing as full implementation. We’ve now been more than five years negotiating. The clock has run out.

Unleashing its full potential through full implementation will not only address climate change but help the world build forward from COVID-19. This means resolving Article 6, which I have already touched upon.

Third, Raise Ambition in Mitigation, Adaptation and Finance

The best time to raise climate ambition was yesterday. The next best time is today.

It’s time to close the existing gaps between global expectations and political commitments.

And when we’re talking about raising ambition, we’re not just talking about mitigation, but also increasing ambition in adaptation, resilience and finance.

As I’ve mentioned, we are seeing incredible momentum both privately and publicly – we must keep it going at COP26.

Fourth: Leave no voice or solution behind.

We must re-engage with civil society and Non-Party Stakeholders in a unity of purpose. Our brand of inclusive multilateralism is the only way forward. In fact, it is our creed. Everyone has a role to play and everyone must be involved, especially women and youth, whose voices have been ignored for too long.

This fourth area for success is one we’ve already been working on. At the recent Subsidiary Body meetings, for example, more than 90 per cent of the meetings were open to the public. We had more online participants than ever before.

Those are our keys to success. It’s important to know, however, that a successful COP 26 implies more than getting one or two “big” decisions – it will mean that nations must achieve a balanced package of decisions reflecting expectations, concerns and needs of all stakeholders in multiple areas.

Obstacles and Opportunities

What can hold us back from achieving success? While multiple factors can influence multilateral discussions of any type, it almost always comes down to trust and leadership. This is how, for example, the Paris Agreement was signed. In the year leading up to its adoption, we saw a groundswell of momentum and support.

As I said at the outset, we can talk about overcoming differences and we can talk about urgency, but it’s simply talk unless leaders make the tough decisions necessary to bridge existing gaps and reach consensus.

With respect to current obstacles, we know the contentious issues. We also know the options on the table. What we need are political decisions to be made.

There are opportunities for these decisions and this leadership in the next few months leading up to COP26.

The UN General Assembly in September, as well as the Pre-COP series of discussions that will take place in Milan from September 30 to October 2, will be additional opportunities for mobilizing political decisions.

The G20 Summit will be held in Rome in October – virtually back-to-back with COP26. It’s crucial that the message coming from the G20 countries, responsible for 80 per cent of global emissions, is one of specific commitments and rising global climate ambition.

The bottom line is that we must – all of us, in all our capacities – encourage nations to press ahead on these issues, resolve differences, and make the decisions that will fulfil the beforementioned four areas of success for COP26.

And let us not forget that our work extends beyond the COP. In fact, the COP should be considered as fitting into an ongoing trajectory of increased ambition and progress that the international community needs to make.

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