In the run-up to COP 26, the IPCC  released its latest climate science assessment report showing that human activity is driving climate change but that there’s still time to avoid the worst effects if we transition away from fossil fuels. 

Nearly three months before countries resume climate negotiations at COP 26 in Scotland, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report today revealing that human activity is unequivocally driving climate change and that some of the effects of the climate crisis will be irreversible for hundreds of years. Policymakers worldwide should pay close attention because the report also offers hope and reveals critical climate science recommendations that governments must follow to prevent the worst effects of climate change and prevent a full-blown climate emergency. 

Expectations for Glasgow

After a two-year hiatus due to Covid 19, climate negotiators from around the world are meeting in November to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. With record fires and floods ravaging the globe and entire communities losing their homes, the effects of the climate crisis are undeniable and demand urgent action. COP 26 is the last chance for the international community to avoid a catastrophic future and protect the planet and the rights of all its inhabitants. The conference will also mark the comeback of the United States to the multilateral negotiations. There are high expectations for what the US will bring to the table, and the commitments parties will make at COP 26. 

In the road to the climate negotiations, one of the most important discussions is about ambition and whether the Paris agreement will achieve what it takes to avert the most catastrophic scenarios. National climate commitments, known as National Determined Contributions, presented by countries so far are not enough to achieve the goal of the Paris agreement “to [pursue] efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”. According to the UN secretariat of the Paris Agreement, only 110 countries, representing 58 percent of all member countries, submitted new or updated national commitments by July 30, the deadline established by parties to the agreement.

In September, when the secretariat publishes its next Synthesis Report, compiling the information from countries’ climate commitments to date, we will know the true impact of such commitments in the Paris agreement goals. Civil society continues to call on States, especially industrialized nations, who have contributed the most to the climate crisis, to submit ambitious national commitments aligned with the Paris objective. Civil society is calling for industrialized nations to commit to zero carbon emissions by 2030 or before if possible.

The climate crisis is here

The current extreme weather events require countries to accelerate their actions to adapt to the climate crisis. However, even with adaptation measures in place, people affected by the climate crisis are already losing their homes and livelihoods and will need appropriate remedies to mitigate these damages. This is what countries will discuss when it comes to adaptation, loss, and damages. Under these negotiations, industrialized nations have committed to mobilize financial resources for developing countries to adapt and provide remedies. Developed countries agreed on a target of $100 billion a year by 2020, a goal that is still largely unmet. 

The US, in particular, has not paid an outstanding $2 billion to the Green Climate Fund after the Trump administration ended US contributions to that entity. This year the Biden administration’s budget included only $1.25 billion for the fund. The US has been silent on its overdue pledge to mobilize resources for adaptation. Ahead of COP, EarthRights is calling on industrialized nations, specifically the US, to fulfill and substantially improve their pledges and provide the necessary financial resources for countries that need them to fulfill their climate commitments and protect their communities. 

Bringing communities to the conversation

COP 26 should aim to be a people’s COP. The growing climate crisis demands greater citizen participation in the adoption of climate policies. This year’s meeting in Scotland is the first in-person climate negotiation since Madrid in December of 2019. We understand there may be restrictions on the number of people that can attend the conference due to COVID 19 and the threat of a new wave caused by the delta variant. The UK, which will lead this year’s COP,  took a good step to ensuring participation by offering vaccines to delegates, including civil society observers who have not been able to get the vaccine in their home countries. Although the pandemic poses challenges, it is important that Covid is not used to impede civil society participation. Climate action should be inclusive and participatory, and that means making sure that communities and civil society observers can effectively participate in the negotiations in Scotland.

Even when civil society and community representatives are allowed to take part, their perspectives and wisdom as the first responders to the climate crisis are often overlooked. This is especially true for frontline communities and defenders who have fewer opportunities and resources to engage in these difficult and costly processes to participate in COP meetings. At the same time, frontline defenders face extreme repression and violence when trying to protect their communities from climate-damaging activities. There is a large disconnect between countries at international climate negotiations discussing carbon emission reduction, and those same countries allowing the development of new fossil fuel projects at home.  

Supporting defenders around the world

At EarthRights, we work with frontline communities and defenders resisting climate-damaging projects worldwide. Recently, EarthRights and partners supporting activists opposing Line 3 in Minnesota achieved a legal victory to end an unlawful police blockade. The police blocked access to private property serving as a camp for water protectors seeking to defend untouched wetlands and the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples. These kinds of repressive acts against defenders and communities working for climate justice are not new and reveal a global trend to repress environmental defenders. Countries should commit to ending abusive policies and practices against climate and environmental defenders. Ahead of COP, we are calling on all countries to fulfill their promise to leave no one behind and ensure that environmental and climate defenders can continue their work without fear of violence or reprisals.

Biden’s opportunity to act on climate

The Biden administration has failed to deliver on its climate promises but the countdown to COP 26 offers a new chance for redemption. Biden made climate change a defining point for his agenda. But he has failed to reject fossil fuel infrastructure projects, such as Line 3, that perpetuate our reliance on fossil fuels and do not align with the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis. Moreover, the White House stripped the infrastructure bill, currently being negotiated by Congress, of key climate provisions. Civil society organizations are warning that provisions in the bill would allow fossil fuel corporations to access millions of dollars in subsidies. This move conflicts with the expectation that countries will agree to end fossil fuel subsidies during COP 26. As the leader of this year’s COP, the UK has publicly announced the end of fossil fuels subsidies as one of the country’s major commitments for this year’s meeting. If the US and other major emitters want to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, they should join the UK presidency on this goal.

The climate science is clear–the IPCC report calls on countries to act immediately if we want to limit climate warming to 1.5 degrees in the coming decades. The earth is making an urgent call for urgent action. Parties to the Paris agreement should act in accordance with the most recent science. In the run-up to COP 26, EarthRights, along with thousands of civil society groups, Indigenous and frontline communities, youth groups, and climate and environmental defenders from all over the world, will be mobilizing to demand that COP 26 delivers the necessary commitments to protect our rights and our planet. 

Natalia Gomez is Climate Change Policy Advisor at EarthRights International