COP26, scheduled for November 2021 in Glasgow, has been described as the last best chance to avert the climate crisis. In many ways, this is an oversimplification of the issue. Climate change can’t be avoided altogether, and the consequences of anthropogenic climate change has already began impacting many parts of the world; namely, tropical regions, coasts and countries predisposed to droughts. What then, ought to be addressed this year at the 26th annual Conference of Parties?
COP26 is an exceptional opportunity to achieve net-zero by the middle of the century. Along with aggressive greenhouse gas emission reductions (particularly in developed nations), reducing environmental impacts to developing nations, biodiversity loss and formalizing the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement should be of top concern among the world leaders that will participate in COP26. It goes without saying that any climate change mitigation strategies will require international cooperation, as its global target.
COP26 and Biodiversity Loss
Reaching net-zero emissions is a multifaceted problem, which has implications for biological diversity. Climate change increases the risks of biological diversity loss, at the same time, losses in biodiversity can exacerbate climate change. The IPCC and IPBES workshop report qualifies these two issues as mutually reinforcing. In other words, addressing either one of the will influence the other.
COP26 and Global Economies
Aside from addressing biodiversity loss, economies will have to be reformed in order to tackle climate change. In her book, “Doughnut Economics”, Kate Raworth posits an economic framework that caters to both the needs of humanity, and the planetary boundaries of the natural world. The doughnut is a visual metaphor that represents two extreme limits, with a sweet spot in the middle, so to speak. Human civilizations undoubtedly depend on nature’s contributions for resources (water, medicine, foods, textiles and building materials). If we fail to extract enough resources from nature to support human life, then we will fall short of maintaining a social foundation for all global communities of people. If we extract resources faster than the natural world can replenish them, then we will be overshooting the ecological ceiling imposed by nature- this would be the outer limits of the doughnut. Either extreme represents an undesirable future. The sweet spot, also called “the safe and just space for humanity” is the place where humans live sustainably within what the natural world can afford, without degrading its systems or cycles.
For example, conserving the long term functionality of Earth’s carbon cycles will demand strict limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Unmitigated proliferation of CO2 produces increasing amounts of carbon to accumulate in the planet’s atmosphere. This disturbs the flow of carbon through Earth’s oceans, sediment and other biochemical processes. If carbon dioxide, a heat trapping gas, reaches levels too high to regulate and release into space, then Earth’s carbon cycle may be irreversibly changed, causing unnatural degrees of heat to threaten nature and mankind.
With any luck, COP26’s attending world leaders must institute limits on the amount of greenhouse gases that may be legally emitted, especially with respect to the world’s top emitters: China, the United States, India, the European Union and the Russian Federation. Equally as important, global leaders need to prioritize wildlife and ecosystem conservation. This will not only protect biodiversity, thereby enhancing the contributions that nature is capable of providing, but it will also help ecosystem’s develop resilience to climate change.