COP26: Arnold & Porter to Post Regular Reports on Key Issues at the Upcoming UN Climate Summit
In less than one week, more than 20,000 people, including world leaders, diplomats, business leaders, and NGOs, will be attending COP26—the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference. The COP (Conference of the Parties) will run from October 31 through November 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. While the conference is held annually, this year is particularly significant. It is hoped by many that COP26 will give substance to details left out of the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21). President Biden and 13 cabinet members and high-ranking officials will attend the conference.
The overarching goal of COP26 is to “secure global net zero by mid-century” and to “keep within reach” the objective of preventing average global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels. The COP26 Conference has announced that, “Countries are [therefore] being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by 2050.” The International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC)—the United Nations body responsible for assessing the science related to climate change—has stated that 1.5 degrees represents a target that could avoid a number of potentially “long-lasting or irreversible” climate change impacts such as “the loss of some ecosystems.” IPCC, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° (2018).
COP26 goals also include adapting to protect communities and natural habitats. This means building resilience to the impacts of climate change to protect the health of people and ecosystems, such as making infrastructure and agriculture more climate-resilient. The conference also seeks to mobilize climate finance, such as public finance for the development of climate-resilient infrastructure and private finance to fund technology and innovation. Countries are also hoping that the parties to COP26 will be able to finalize the “Paris Rulebook” (the rules needed to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement).
Key issues to watch as we lead up to the COP26 include:
1. Domestic climate policy. One key issue is what President Biden and Congress will be able to roll out as COP26 begins. President Biden has pledged that the US will cut emissions 50–52% below 2005 levels by 2025. It appears, however, that the Reconciliation Bill, even if it passes, will not contain the climate measures the President had been hoping for. For example, the $150 billion Clean Electricity Performance Program (CEPP), the power sector decarbonization policy, has apparently been dropped from the Reconciliation Bill due to opposition from Senator Joe Manchin. Democratic legislators are reportedly scrambling to replace the CEPP with a suite of financial measures to incentivize a similar degree of carbon emission reductions from electricity production. Regardless of what Congress is (or is not) able to accomplish, it is likely that climate-related executive actions will be unveiled both before and during COP26 by the high-level officials in attendance. Most significantly, EPA is widely expected to proposed rules to slash methane emissions from new and existing sources under the Clean Air Act. US agencies in attendance, which we will be monitoring closely, include the departments of State, Transportation, Energy, Agriculture, the Interior, the Treasury as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, Agency for International Development, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Economic Council, and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
2. Climate finance. The US and other countries have pledged to provide $100 billion a year in climate finance to aid developing countries reduce emissions and mitigate and adapt to climate impacts. So far, wealthy countries have been unable to meet this goal but mobilizing both public and private finance is a key goal of COP26.
3. Carbon markets. Many countries are hoping that rules for international carbon markets—proposed under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement—will emerge at COP26. Such markets would, in theory, allow countries to effectively purchase emission reductions from other countries in order to meet their emission reduction goals.
4. Commitments from nations that are the largest GHG emitters and oil producers. One key topic leading up to COP26 is the emission reduction pledges of the nations with the largest GHG emissions and the largest oil producers. Saudi Arabia made news by promising to reach net zero by 2060, without diminishing its position as the world’s largest oil producer. Many will be watching to see if other large emitters under pressure to further cut emissions—such as India, China, and Australia—will follow suit.
5. Climate change and GHG emissions pledges by private companies. Business leaders in attendance at COP26 are also expected to announce “net zero” commitments and other GHG emissions reduction goals, in order to “align” their businesses with the goals of the Paris Agreement and COP26. The IPCC has acknowledged that private sector leadership essential to accomplishing the objectives of COP26. IPCC, Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° (2018) at Ch. 10. Investors and the public will be watching closely, not only to keep track of what goals are being set, but to see any details that may be shared in terms of implementation.
COP26 presents a critical moment for the world to decide whether international legal mechanisms will prove effective in addressing climate change. As part of our Environmental Edge blog, Arnold & Porter attorneys will closely monitor and report regularly on COP26 developments throughout the next several weeks.
*Karen Vincent contributed to this blog post. Ms. Vincent is a graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center and is employed at Arnold & Porter's Washington, DC office. She is not admitted to the practice of law.