What is COP26 and why does an event so far away matter to the Philippines?

man fixing his house battered by typhoon

What is COP26 and why does an event so far away matter to the Philippines?

Representatives from nearly 200 countries will gather in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31-November 12 in a last ditch effort to keep global warming to 1.5 Degrees Celsius this century.

The United Nations climate conference—scheduled to take place from October 31 and November 12—is more than just another international meeting.

The United Nations-backed climate conference comes at a crucial time as scientists warned that countries must take ambitious and rapid action to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C in order to avert a climate catastrophe.

Here’s everything you need to know about the pivotal global climate summit, and what it means for Filipinos.

What is COP26?

The summit is also known as COP26, which stands for 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This year's conference is delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United Kingdom holds the presidency of COP26.

What will happen in Glasgow?

In Glasgow, there will be a lot of discussions among high-level officials on ways to reduce emissions, ramp up finance and support, and strengthen the adaptation and resilience of communities to climate impacts.

More than 100 heads of state, including US President Joe Biden, will attend a portion of the event. 

What are the core goals for COP26?

  • Secure global net zero—which refers to achieving a balance between emissions produced and emissions removed from the atmosphere—by the middle of the century and keep the goal of capping temperature rise to 1.5°C alive.

    To achieve this, countries need to rapidly phase out coal power, protect forests, and encourage investment in clean energy.
  • Adaptation of communities and restoration of ecosystems are also among the key targets of the negotiations. 
  • Mobilize climate finance. Wealthy countries have a decade-old target to contribute $100 billion a year to help low-income nations fight climate change.

    The failure of developed nations to deliver on this commitment has become a key point of contention.
  • Another focus for the summit is finalizing the detailed rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement, or the Paris Rulebook.

What is at stake?

In a report released in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that “widespread and rapid” changes in the atmosphere, ocean and land have occurred. Human activities have warmed the planet by 1.1°C

Every fraction of warming matters. Storms, droughts, rising seas and other extreme weather events will become more severe with the further heating of the planet.

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward plans setting out how much they would slash carbon emissions—known as Nationally Determined Contributions.

However, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, the national plans of about 120 countries put the world on track to a 2.7°C rise.

"COP26 needs to be decisive. Whether future generations look back at this time with admiration or despair, depends entirely on our ability to seize this moment," Alok Sharma, COP president-designate, said.

Why does COP26 matter for the Philippines?

For Filipinos, climate change is a "matter of life and death," Greenpeace Southeast Asia Yeb Saño said in an earlier interview.

According to the Global Climate Risk Index of environment think tank Germanwatch, the Philippines is fourth on the list of countries most impacted by climate change-induced catastrophes in the past 20 years.

In 2020, the Philippines was battered by back-to-back storms, including Super Typhoon Rolly (Goni) and Typhoon Ulysses (Vamco), in a period of three weeks. 

Scientists also warn there will be more adverse impacts on the country’s economy, food security and even the health sector if there is no massive and urgent action.

Rodne Galicha, convenor of Aksyon Klima, also said the climate summit is an important venue to demand climate justice for Filipinos as well as accountability and non-compromised actions, especially from those who are most responsible for the warming of the planet.

Who will comprise the Philippine delegation?

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III will head the country’s 19-member delegation to COP26 in Glasgow. Dominguez is the chairperson-designate of the Climate Change Commission.

He will be joined by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and other officials from the DOF as well as officials from the Office of the President, Department of Energy and Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Finance Assistant Secretary Paola Alvarez said the government kept the delegation “as lean as possible” due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

What will the Philippine delegation bring to the table?

In a release, the DOF said Dominguez will ensure the voices of climate change-vulnerable countries like the Philippines will be heard at COP26.

Tony La Viña, who led the Philippines in climate change negotiations, is expecting the Philippine delegation will be "heavyweights" in Glasgow, equaling the country's influence in previous climate talks such as the first COP in Berlin in 1995 and the historic Paris summit in 2015. 

The Philippines earlier committed to cutting by 75% its emissions by 2030. But the bulk of this NDC is hinged on foreign funding and assistance.

What are the people’s demands for climate justice?

Many activists from the Global South—including the Philippines—will be excluded from the talks due to vaccine inequity and prohibitive logistical requirements.

But those on the frontline of the crisis will demand just compensation for climate-related loss and damage, and “bigger and bolder” climate finance targets from wealthy economies, said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment.

What will it take for COP26 to succeed?

"Glasgow will be judged on the ambition it adopts to address the climate challenge. Will 1.5°C still be achievable after Glasgow? If we conclude now, Glasgow would have failed," La Viña said. 

"Has Glasgow led to the acceptance of climate justice as the right and only framework to respond to climate change? If not, then there is a lot of work to do."

This story was originally published in Philstar.com on October 27, 2021. It was produced as part of the 2021 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security.

Banner image: Aftermath of Super Typhoon Rolly in Albay on November 2020 / Credit: The STAR/Edd Gumban

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