Not just once a year at COP
The British government, as the host of the COP26 UN climate conference that was originally planned for November 2020, decided to postpone it by a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, we are hearing rumours that another postponement may be on the cards!
I am of the view that not only must the summit not be put off further, but also that the original delay, although understandable, was wrong as well. The main reason is that while we postponed the talks by a year, climate change impacts did not take the year off.
Indeed, I would argue that, during 2020, the world crossed the threshold of seeing scientifically attributable impacts of human-induced climate change occurring around the world. These ranged from the huge wildfires in Australia and California, to powerful hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific, and cyclones in the Indian Ocean.
In my part of the world, we were hit by Super Cyclone Amphan in May 2020, which strengthened so much because the sea surface temperature in the Bay of Bengal was more than 2C above normal. Amphan hit Kolkata in India first, and then Bangladesh, causing a lot of “loss and damage” in both our countries.
Fortunately, both Bangladesh and India have developed some of the world’s most effective cyclone warning and evacuation systems -- and over 3 million people made it to cyclone shelters, surviving the worst of Amphan. In past decades, such super cyclones have killed tens of thousands of people, but this time the death toll was a few dozen, mostly fishermen out at sea who did not get back to land in time.
Nevertheless, Amphan caused widespread loss and damage. Many who survived are still living on embankments unable to return to their homes, either because they were destroyed or the land has become salinized from sea-water intrusion. Given the increase in these types of disasters, COP26 this November in Glasgow will need to address the loss and damage attributable to human-induced climate change in a suitably serious manner.
Slim it down
The other negative impact of the summit’s postponement was that many countries which were due to submit their revised, more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) plans for enhancing emissions reductions by the end of 2020 (as agreed under the 2015 Paris Agreement) failed to do so as they felt they had been given an extra year. This unintended negative impact of the COP26 postponement was not even considered when the decision was made.
The mega jamboree of tens of thousands of observers who attend the annual COPs are not essential to getting the work of negotiations done. Being one of those observers who has been at every single COP for the last 25 years, I have enjoyed attending the many side events and the networking opportunities offered there. However, I am the first to acknowledge that my presence is not essential for the official business to take place.
My final argument is that the need for the annual COP is now very much reduced following the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 at COP21, where all countries agreed to take action. For that, we don’t need to convene for one big meeting at the end of each year.
Rather we should discuss the implementation of the Paris accord every single day in every single country. The Fridays for Future movement of school students led by Greta Thunberg goes on strike every week all over the world, demonstrating how this can be done effectively.
The Paris goals should also be pursued through other international fora, such as the gatherings of G7 and G20 leaders and ministers, and development finance institutions.
My centre in Bangladesh is joining other think-tanks around the world in a new coalition called ACT2025, which intends to link tackling the climate emergency with every relevant global meeting such as the upcoming G7 and G20 summits -- not just to COP26 but beyond to 2025.
We will aim to bring together “Communities of Practice” -- coalitions of the willing, from governments to parliamentarians, mayors, heads of companies, and many others who will work to implement the Paris Agreement each day for the next decade.
We believe this requires a sustained effort at multiple events, rather than just one COP at the end of each year.
Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh. A version of this article was first published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Reuters News.