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The significance of the United Nations climate talks kicking off next week in Glasgow, Scotland, will focus as much on the non-official aspects of the two-week summit in addition to the press for countries to offer tougher carbon reduction targets under the Paris climate deal and hammer out rules for international emissions trading.
Unofficial events by policymakers, industry and others at the U.N.’s Nov. 1-12 climate talks will be crucial to ensuring continued on-the-ground momentum for global greenhouse gas cuts beyond the initial confines of the 2015 Paris Agreement, observers and participants of the meeting say.
“There was never going to be a ‘Paris moment’ with a dramatic hammering of the gavel and an agreement being waved in the air,” said Center for Climate & Energy Solutions (C2ES) international climate expert Kaveh Guilanpour at an Oct. 22 press briefing.
The United Kingdom organizers of the 26th “Conference of the Parties” (COP26) to the U.N. framework climate treaty say a chief aim of the meeting is to “keep alive” the Paris Agreement’s stretch goal of limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. Progress on this point will be judged by the cumulative quality of countries’ updated GHG pledges.
“It’s going to be vital that Glasgow gives a credible and unequivocable response to the urgency of the latest science,” Guilanpour said.
Even so, he downplayed expectations that this year’s meeting will fully close the “gap” between current pledges and what is needed to achieve the 1.5-degree target. The Paris deal’s key function is to “incrementally raise ambition. The Paris Agreement is working, but it was never designed to work in one step,” Guilanpour added.
In that effort to encourage such incremental progress, an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) official is emphasizing the role of state and local officials from various countries, who will be gathering in an unofficial capacity to collaborate and exchange ideas on reducing GHGs:
An Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) climate change expert based in California will be emphasizing the need to bolster state and other “sub-national” efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as officials gather starting next week for the highly anticipated United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
“It can’t all be on the federal government, especially as so many states have already done so much on climate,” said EDF senior manager of U.S. climate Katelyn Roedner Sutter, referring to efforts to reach the U.S. climate pledge under the Paris deal. She emphasized “the role of the sub-national governments -- the governments and governors and state legislators who are attending.”
Even though those states and local governments are not official parties to the U.N. climate process, the COP26 meeting nonetheless provides an “incredible opportunity for sub-national leaders from around the world to get together and share ideas,” she said. “It sounds perhaps a little simplistic, but it’s really powerful when you can have legislators from California meeting with state legislators from Brazil or Germany or Australia.”
Also, auto industry officials are expected to attend to tout their companies’ commitments to deploying zero-emitting electric vehicles:
Observers are expecting next month’s international climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, to serve as a venue for highlighting new and existing commitments by automakers and governments toward decarbonizing transportation, building on already-announced goals for electrifying both passenger vehicles and heavy trucks.
Those events will be among the many instances in which the Glasgow meeting provides a forum to showcase public and private GHG efforts, in addition to the formal negotiations on implementing the Paris Agreement. Additionally, it could signal greater attention to transportation issues than has occurred during prior U.N. climate meetings, observers say.
“At COP26, expect more such bold pledges from countries and corporations signaling an inflection point in the shift toward clean transport,” World Resources Institute (WRI) says in a recent preview of the conference.
“Major automakers like Ford, GM, BMW and others have [already] made major investments, and more and more countries and companies are committing to phase out sales of vehicles with internal combustion engines,” the group says.
The precise details of new or expanded commitments remain unclear, but the conference is expected to highlight formalized or expanded commitments related to both light- and heavy-duty vehicles. The U.K., as the COP26 host, has formally designated Nov. 10 -- during the second week of the summit -- as transport day, one of several such thematic designations to highlight various sectoral climate challenges.
More broadly, the “credibility” of the U.S. climate stance will be on the line as Biden administration officials aim to persuade China, Russia, India and other heavy emitters to raise their pledges for reducing emissions by 2030:
Key experts say Biden officials at the upcoming Glasgow climate summit must show “credibility” on their promised actions -- in the form of EPA rules, new legislation and other measures -- if they are to eventually secure more ambitious pledges from other major emitters and successfully implement a landmark 2015 global agreement.
“What everyone’s looking for is whether [the United States] can deliver,” said C2ES President Nat Keohane at the group’s Oct. 22 press conference. “We have a critical moment in time to deliver at least on as much of that climate ambition and that 2030 pledge as we can,” he added.
The Paris Agreement features a five-year cycle during which nations are expected to submit bolstered targets. Some observers have dubbed this the “ratchet mechanism,” to signal incremental progress over time on curbing emissions, with no backsliding.
Keohane argued that for countries such as the U.S., European Union, the U.K. and some others, “you’re seeing the ratchet is working” and spurring tougher Paris pledges. For instance, he said the expectation of stronger Paris targets this year was a “forcing framework for Biden to come back with something big and right away.”
Yet, he also pointed to a “next tier” of “really big emerging economies” that includes China, India, Russia, South Africa and Brazil, none of which has yet updated its original Paris goal. While there are always specific domestic reasons for a given country’s global climate stance, he said that broadly, “they’re not feeling the pressure on that ratchet.”
Securing tougher pledges from this group of countries, Keohane argued, will occur “when the U.S. is seen to be living up to its commitments, and credible on its commitments.”
Also on the agenda is the longstanding pursuit of rules for reporting and quantifying GHG reductions that occur via carbon trading:
Even as most experts are closely watching the extent to which next month’s international climate talks will usher in new pledges from countries to curb carbon emissions, many industry groups are also tracking whether negotiators can nail down long-pending rules to facilitate international carbon trading.
“Ambition and markets are sort of linked,” Dirk Forrister, a former Clinton administration climate official who is now president of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), said in an interview with Inside EPA’s Climate Extra ahead of the Glasgow climate talks.
Hammering out carbon trading rules is necessary, “so you can know how far you can go in terms of increased ambition,” he added.
At issue are still-pending rules to implement Article 6 of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which discusses “cooperation” among countries and other entities. This issue is the last major outstanding portion of the Paris deal’s “rulebook.”
Some emissions trading activities can still move forward in the absence of final rules, Forrister said, given the “basic authority” in the Paris Agreement for countries to cooperate. However, he noted that “the place that you’d miss the [U.N.] engagement” is the so-called Article 6.4 that creates a “new mechanism” to enable project-based trading involving public and private entities.
Such project-based trading would be “important for smaller, developing countries. That is probably their easiest route to market. . . . A lot of the apparatus [for such trading] would be difficult for these countries to set up on their own.”
Consequently, rules for project-based trading would be key for companies looking to develop offset projects in those countries.
Forrister noted that many existing carbon trading programs -- such as California’s cap-and-trade market, the European Union’s emissions trading system, and an international offset market for the aviation sector -- are increasingly relying on standards from third-party groups.