‘Uniting the world to tackle climate change’ is this year’s mantra of the 26th annual Conference of the Parties, or COP26. These ‘Parties’ are countries who are considered part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an organisation that aims to bring nations together to combat anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change.

Considered the world’s foremost climate change related international conference, the event arrives during tumultuous times: an intensifying of climate-related activities such as wildfires, floods, and storms, all pinned against the backdrop of a pandemic which has brought global industry to its knees.

Taking place in Glasgow from 31st October – 12th November 2021, the event will comprise of 190 world leaders, tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, business and citizens all working together to achieve one common goal, accelerating humanity’s efforts to tackle climate change. 

Not without its critics, COP26 is nonetheless a significant date in the calendar of climate change-related events. Following last year’s Climate Ambition Summit, which saw 75 world leaders discussing new commitments on climate, COP26 will see attendance from individuals such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden, Prince Charles, The Pope, and revered naturalist Sir David Attenborough. Despite boasting such an esteemed roster of guests, questions have been raised over the lack of commitment by China’s leader Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who are both likely no-shows at the event.

This year’s COP26 sets out to discuss potential strategies for achieving such lofty targets as reaching global net zero carbon emissions by 2050, in addition to limiting a temperature rise to 1.5℃, targets delineated by the Paris Agreement. This is expected to be accomplished through an international effort by all countries involved to submit ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets, which will be contributed to by accelerating the phasing out of coal, deploying more CO2 reduction methods such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), encouraging investment in renewables, and curtailing deforestation.

As the climate becomes more unpredictable, communities and natural habitats will begin to come under even greater threat. To come up with solutions COP26 attendees will also discuss methods to mitigate the threat and protect areas vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate. The event will assess the feasibility of defence systems, warning systems and making infrastructure and agriculture more resilient.

The biggest driver of achieving these goals will be the ability to obtain suitable levels of funding, one reason why developed countries are being asked to raise at least $100bn in climate finance each year. By combining the efforts of all those involved, including private and public sector finance, COP26 hopes to accelerate the push towards global net zero.

Over the course of the two-week event, these targets will be the topic of intense scrutiny and fervent negotiation, with joint discussions occurring between ‘blocks’ of participants.

Blocks are essentially groupings of nations, or Parties, who negotiate certain topics jointly. These include:

  • G77 plus China - essentially a group of middle income and developing countries.
  • SIDS - Small Island Developing States.
  • Africa Group.
  • Least Developed Countries
  • BASIC - Brazil, South Africa, India and China.
  • Arab Group.
  • Climate Vulnerable Forum.
  • AILAC - Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Umbrella Group - a loose coalition of non-EU developed countries, including Australia, Canada, Japan, the US, and the Russian Federation.

The success of COP26 is dependent not only on the outcome of discussions, but what the participants did to advance climate ambition in the year leading up to the event.

Why should we care?

Although the numbers seem negligible, according to the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), a temperature rise of just 2℃ would see a significant increase in heat-related deaths and health problems due to exposure to severe heat, the destruction of almost all warm water coral reefs, and the potential for irreversible loss of ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic, leading to sea-level rise.

By limiting temperature rise to 1.5℃, these risks would still be present but with a less severe impact. Increases in heavy precipitation events, such as tropical cyclones, on a global scale would be limited, the likelihood of extreme drought in certain parts of the world would also be reduced. This in turn reduces the risk of food and water shortages for humanity and mitigates the threat of extinction to innumerable species.

What role can industrial gases play in COP26?

It’s been reported that the UK upstream oil & gas industry accounts for around 4% of national CO2 equivalent emissions, implying that the industrial gas sector could play a vital role in contributing to UK decarbonisation goals. These goals could be achieved by accelerating the development of CCUS, greater adoption of hydrogen and further investment in blue/green hydrogen production and bridging the gap to large-scale hydrogen use with low carbon fuels such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).

An oft-forgotten atmospheric polluter is methane. As the second biggest contributor to anthropogenic climate change, after CO2, methane is believed to be responsible for around half of the 1.1℃ net rise in the global average temperature since the 1850’s. With a warming power more than 80 times that of CO2 over the first 20 years after it reaches the atmosphere, there’s good reason for more severe regulations governing its emission be imposed.

The Global Methane Pledge (GMP), established last September (2021), is a joint effort by the US and the EU to commit to reducing methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 to 2030. With countries such as Canada expressing interest in joining the pledge, negotiations at COP26 have the potential to invoke further international commitments.

Another important part of the industrial gas sector’s evolution could be a transformation of its business model, focusing more on schemes such as carbon credits, offsetting emissions and carbon trading.

COP26 key areas and schedule

This year’s COP President, Alok Sharma, outlined the following key areas of focus for COP26:

  1. Adaptation and resilience. ‘Helping people, economies and the environment adapt and prepare for the impacts of climate change.’

  2. Nature. ‘Safeguarding ecosystems, protecting natural habitats and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.’

  3. Energy transition. ‘Seizing the massive opportunities of cheaper renewables and storage.’

  4. Accelerating the move to zero-carbon road transport. ‘By 2040, over half of new car sales worldwide are projected to be electric.’

  5. Finance. ‘We need to unleash the finance which will make all of this possible and power the shift to a zero carbon economy.’

Coverage of the event will be provided by gasworld, in addition to relevant exclusive articles and comments from industry experts.

The full schedule of COP26 is available here.