COP26: Using science for diplomacy

A Streams of thought contribution by Francesca Casale.

In November 2021, I attended the COP26 in Glasgow, the Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC (United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change). I have been attending the COP since 2017. It is always an interesting experience. I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of people from all over the world and to exchange learnings and ideas.

As a member of the civil society, I attended COP26 as an observer. In practice, observers can attend some of the plenaries, the informal sessions, and the bilateral meetings with national delegates. Observers are admitted to the conference to guarantee the transparency of the process. Through the constituencies, observers can ask the delegates for some improvements to the draft and decision texts.

At COP26 I was part of the delegation of Italian Climate Network, an Italian NGO focused on environmental divulgation, especially during the UNFCCC negotiations. As an organization, we work with young people in primary and secondary schools in Italy, organizing lessons on climate change and environmental issues.

Bridging science with action-oriented decisions

During the COP26, our principal task was to report on negotiations. So, I followed the negotiation sessions, and I reported the progress through some articles on the Italian Climate Network website (e.g., nature based solutions to achieve climate goals, cop26-towards-the-second-week) I also attended a lot of side events, to better understand the negotiation process and to integrate my knowledge about scientific, social, and economic aspects of the discussion themes in COP26.

Side events are conferences organized in parallel to negotiation sessions, to expand on different themes. Speakers are members of the scientific community, NGOs, members of international organizations (FAO, UNFCCC, WMO, WHO, and so on). While negotiations are slow, difficult to understand and based on specific issues, side events are useful to meet and discuss with practitioners and learn new things about an issue.

During these conferences, I took the opportunity to meet new people and to learn about new technologies and scientific research. Usually, I take part in IPCC and WMO side events, to learn something about new research lines relevant to climate change, in the field of meteorology, climatology and hydrology. This is also a good opportunity to find new prompts and references for my studies.

During COP26 I focused on nature-based solutions (NBS). Indeed, international organizations and civil society promote the use of NBS in the national determined contributions (NDCs), to achieve the national goals in line with the Paris Agreement. In the NDC, each country has to define its goals around mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The use of NBS could be useful to reach both targets; wetlands are a good example. For this reason, during COP26 a lot of events about NBS were organized, for example by the IFAD, the water and climate coalition, and the UNFCCC.

Attending COPs, one can feel the contrast between the dynamicity of civil society, on the outside of the conference, and the slowness of the negotiation. People from all over the world are interested in climate change issues, and they demand urgent action from governments. On the contrary, negotiations are slow, a lot of issues have to be discussed and decisions are taken step-by-step. Discussions and decisions are taken by consensus of all the Nations, and this explains the complexity of the process.

COP26 can be considered a success because decisions on important topics discussed for many years now, were made and finally approved. This was also thanks to the possibility of negotiating in person, so delegates were able to debate informally, reaching a decision more easily. The most important outcome is the conclusion of the Paris Rulebook, a set of guidelines for the implementation of the Paris Agreement, to deliver the defined climate-related goals. For example, it regards the methodology for the report of national greenhouse gases emissions and of climate actions promised under NDCs.

The conclusion of the Paris Rules Book is a sign of the utility of the conferences and of the negotiations, to help Nations work together to reach the Paris Agreement goals and fight against climate change. During COP26, some Nations signed pledges regarding, for example, coal and methane consumption, as well as deforestation. With these commitments and new NDCs presented, for the first time the future projections show that, if the commitments are met, we could achieve one of the objectives of the Paris agreement and keep the temperature increase below 2 °C with respect to the pre-industrial period.

We are nowhere close to the end…

Obviously, a lot of work is still to be done and some items have not been concluded, but discussions will continue in the coming months and years at the intermediate negotiations (in June) and at future COPs. For example, the role of agriculture is still to be discussed, how this sector can work to reduce its emissions (impact mitigation), and how to ensure future drought and extreme precipitation events do not lead to the collapse of the food system of some countries.

Another issue on which a satisfactory goal has unfortunately not been reached, is climate finance. Every year governments should provide 100 billion dollars for the most vulnerable countries so that they can achieve their mitigation and adaptation objectives. This year there is a shortfall of about 20% of the funds. Furthermore, by 2025 a new goal of finance must be defined, and necessary progress has not been made yet. The theme of climate finance is crucial because the poorest countries rely on these funds to achieve their goals, and without such resources they will not be able to respect the Paris agreement. It is also a problem of climate justice, since the developed countries should take the greatest responsibility for climate change and its impacts, while the least developed ones are the most vulnerable.

Now it’s time to put the commitments made at COP26 into practice and start acting. To fight against climate change in a systematic way, decisive interventions should be made by all governments. The commitments that the Heads of States have taken during the COP must be applied. The task of citizens is then to demand such commitments and associated actions through for instance, making laws to reduce fossil fuels, direct incentives to renewable energy, etc. And it is important to start adapting to the unavoidable effects of climate change. All countries will have impacts, but governments have the responsibility to adequately prepare appropriate infrastructure and guide citizens to a safe future.

About the Author

Francesca Casale is a PhD student at the Politecnico di Milano. She works in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with Prof. Daniele Bocchiola in the field of hydrology.

Francesca studies the effects of climate change on mountain hydrology. She is working on the IPCC MOUPA Project, developing a vegetation model (Poli-Pasture) to simulate pasture dynamics and growth in association with the hydrological model Poli-Hydro. In this way, she can evaluate the effects of climate change on regional hydrology and, as a consequence, on pasture productivity. In addition, she is studying slope erosion in the Valchiavenna valley, North of Italy, for the Interreg Project GE.RI.KO Mera, where she is using the hydrological model Poli-Hydro and a D-RUSLE model to analyse the impacts of climate change and identify critical areas susceptible to erosion.

Francesca is also a teaching assistant for the “Climate change and urban hydrological resilience” course at the Politecnico with a specific focus on urban hydraulic infrastructures and nature-based solutions for adaptation to climate change in urban areas.

For a detailed analysis of the results of the COP26, visit the website of Italian Climate Network (also in English).

For further information, follow the links to Climate Lab website and their facebook page.

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