COP26 – “Ratcheting up” for the race to Net Zero

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By Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, NDC Coordinator, Eswatini
This article is part of a series focusing on the upcoming COP26 global climate summit in the UK

This year’s Conference of Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, is an important conference. It will be a test of what is informally known as the “ratchet mechanism” which was coined during the development of the Paris Agreement. The mechanism works by calling on member nations to “ratchet-up” their climate contributions every five years and be accountable for their climate goals over the next thirty years (until 2050). 2050 is the year that the world must reach “net zero (which is when we are achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and the carbon removed from it) to avoid catastrophic climate change. For the world to reach net zero, we need to progressively raise ambition (or “ratchet-up”).

Clearly, there is no time to waste in the fight to tackle the climate crisis and therefore COP26 is expected to set plans for bold action at what is the most critical time in the climate crisis yet. It will also be the first time the countries can discuss their progress since the Paris Agreement, and set ambitious plans accordingly. At this COP, countries will discuss various issues including Carbon Market Mechanisms, delivery of the $100 billion finance target and agree on common time frames for countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and whether those time frames should be five years or ten years. The shorter timeframe would mean we need to revise NDCs more frequently, potentially driving greater ambition than if they were only revised every decade. Many scientists say this gives a better scope for “ratcheting up” ambition every five years.

Ahead of COP 26, countries will be submitting their revised NDCs, which are to be enhanced and more ambitious than their first submission in 2015. The Synthesis Report on NDCs, released in September this year states that for the group of 113 Parties with new or updated NDCs already submitted, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are projected to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), estimated that a reduction of CO2 emissions of 45% in 2030 is required for limiting global average temperature increases to 1.5C. This means countries need to raise ambition in their NDCs even more.

Raising ambition in NDCs needs substantial finances for implementing the mitigation and adaptation measures committed. A sizeable number of NDCs from developing countries contain conditional commitments to reduce emissions, which can only be implemented with access to enhanced financial resources and other support. While there is some good news which came out recently, ahead of COP26, when the Board of the Green Climate Fund had approved USD 1.2 billion for action to build resilience to climate change and to reduce emissions; we still have a long way to go to meet financial needs for climate action. It is hoped that while ambition to reduce GHG emissions should be indeed ratcheted-up, financial flows and support for NDCs should also be ratcheted-up for the world to reach net zero. It is time to deliver and for all countries to work together and COP 26 will be the place for this.