The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The first COP was in 1995 in Berlin, Germany. Since then it had been developed every year until 2020, which was suspended due to the covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, experts say that COP26 will be an important event for the world because the progress of the Paris Agreement on climate change will be evaluated and because it is the first meeting of its kind since the pandemic began.
Since the first COP, 26 years ago, two main interrelated issues have been discussed : the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against climate change and global warming.
What are greenhouse gases?
Greenhouse gases are natural gases that normally exist in the atmosphere. Carolina Zambrano, climate justice leader of the Hivos organization, explains that the function of these gases is to trap a part of the solar radiation that normally reaches the Earth.
Greenhouse gases, says Zambrano, make life possible on the planet because they regulate temperature. Without greenhouse gases to trap some of the sun’s radiation, the planet’s temperature would be between -13 and -18 degrees Celsius. The current average temperature is 15 degrees Celsius.
By this function, greenhouse gases are naturally good . The problem, says the expert, is that since the industrial revolution began, human activities have generated many more greenhouse gas emissions and those are accumulating in the atmosphere. And it is that accumulation of greenhouse gases that is causing climate change .
The main greenhouse gases on Earth are:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Water vapor (H2O)
- Methane (CH4)
- Nitrous oxide (N2O)
- Ozone (O3)
The carbon dioxide is the gas that contributes most to climate change and global warming more than 50%. It enters the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as oil, natural gas and coal and by burning solid waste or by industrial activities such as cement production.
Naturally, a part of the CO2 could be retained by tropical forests like the Amazon, which is a carbon sink. However, high rates of deforestation, the expansion of the agricultural frontier, soil erosion, and activities such as cattle ranching have limited the ability of the atmosphere to remove carbon dioxide. Furthermore, 80% of CO2 remains in the atmosphere and in the ocean for up to 200 years.
Another greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change in a significant percentage (15%) is methane . Methane enters the atmosphere from the production of fossil fuels, yet about a third of its emissions come from livestock and other agricultural practices.
It is estimated that each year, livestock farming produces about 115 million tons of methane gas from the decomposition of their manure and their digestive processes. Methane is one of the worst greenhouse gases, because it is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat.
What is climate change and global warming?
The United Nations Organization says that climate change is an alteration of the Earth’s climate over time due – directly or indirectly – to human activities. The global warming is a direct consequence of climate change and refers to the increase in average temperature of the planet.
Since the Industrial Revolution, the global temperature has risen 1.1 degrees Celsius. The 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that the climate is changing across the planet on an “unprecedented” scale and that global warming due to that change is on the rise. “Code red” – that is, in critical condition .
Global temperature is expected to rise to or above 1.5 degrees Celsius in the next 20 years.
The challenges of COP26
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) says there are four main goals that the more than 100 world leaders who will attend the COP this year must achieve.
First, COP26 seeks to achieve global net zero by mid-century and keep the Earth’s maximum temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The net overall zero means that the level of greenhouse gases exiting the atmosphere is the same as the level of gases entering the atmosphere. That is, what you want to achieve is that there is a balance of greenhouse gases and thus control the increase in the temperature of the planet. To achieve this, it is expected that at the COP countries will commit to:
- speed up carbon removal
- reduce deforestation of ecosystems
- accelerate the change of energy matrices
- encourage the use of electric vehicles
- encourage investment in renewable energy.
Another objective of the COP is to look beyond climate change mitigation and pay attention to adaptation. The reason adaptation is important is to protect communities and ecosystems that are already being affected by climate change — and will continue to be affected even as greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.
The UNFCCC says that COP26 should work primarily to: protect and restore ecosystems and to build resilient alert systems, infrastructure, and even agriculture to prevent the loss of homes and livelihoods due to climate change.
At the COP, it is expected to evaluate how these contributions are progressing and also define the role of international financial institutions for the distribution of that money to meet the goal of global net zero.
Finally, another objective of COP26 is joint work . At the conference, world leaders are expected to take joint action to address the challenges of the climate crisis. For that, the COP must:
- Finish defining the Paris Rulebook —which is a document that should detail the rules on how the Paris Agreement should be applied in all signatory countries.
- Accelerate actions to face the climate crisis, through collaboration between governments, companies, civil society, and even indigenous peoples and nationalities.
Ecuador at COP26
Unlike the great world powers, Ecuador’s contribution to climate change is minimal. According to Gustavo Manrique, Minister of the Environment, Water and Ecological Transition (MAATE), the country’s CO2 emissions represent only 0.15% of the global inventory . However, the effects of climate change are already being felt in local territory.
Biologist Carolina Zambrano says that in Ecuador, only between 1960 and 2010, the temperature had increased: 1.1 degrees in the Sierra, 0.6 degrees in the Coast, 0.9 degrees in the Amazon, and 1.4 degrees in Galapagos.
In addition, the latest report of National Communication on Climate Change of 2017 says that if the current trend continues, the average temperature in the country will increase 2 degrees Celsius until the end of the century .
Karina Barrera, Undersecretary of Climate Change at MAATE, says that between 2000 and 2017 Ecuador has lost about 424 million dollars due to the increase in droughts , and that there has also been a high migration of people for that same reason. For this reason, says Barrera, Ecuador’s priority at COP26 is to seek to define a global mechanism for adaptation to climate change.
But for Ecuador it is also important that this COP define how the Santiago Network is going to work , an initiative that was born at COP25 in Madrid with the aim of providing technical assistance to vulnerable countries so that they know how to deal with loss and damage. caused by the effects of climate change.
- Climate change mitigation with a focus on sustainable markets that ensure environmental integrity.
- Climate financing for mitigation and adaptation, standardization of formats for information disclosure, and transparency in the management of funds.
- The re-evaluation of the times necessary for the fulfillment of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC, for its acronym in English).
- The NDC of Ecuador has the objective of implementing policies and actions that promote the reduction of greenhouse gases, the increase of resilience, and the decrease of vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change.
- Ecuador’s first NDC was released in March 2019, but according to the Ministry of Environment, its compliance is delayed due to the covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, they hope that new times can be defined for its implementation at COP26.
Other challenges for Ecuador at COP26
Carolina Zambrano, climate justice leader of the Hivos organization, says that in addition to seeking financing and defining actions to adapt to climate change, another important point that Ecuador must address at COP26 is compliance with human and indigenous rights, and conservation of the Amazon.
Zambrano says that Ecuador must commit to caring for the Amazon and the indigenous peoples and nationalities that live there because it is a central issue to mitigate climate change.
One way to take care of the Amazon is to limit extractivism in this region, but in July 2021, President Guillemo Lasso signed Decree 95 that aims to double the country’s oil production to one million barrels per day. Indigenous organizations filed an unconstitutionality action against the government for that decree. However, it is not yet known when the cause will be resolved.
Taking action to protect the Amazon is essential. Belén Páez, Executive Director of the Pachamama Foundation says that due to high levels of deforestation, the Amazon is close to reaching a point of no return – a critical point in the state of nature that once overcome will unleash irreversible changes.
If the Amazon reaches this point, it will cease to be a carbon sink that helps mitigate the effects of climate change and the effects will be devastating not only for the ecosystem, but also for the indigenous peoples and nationalities that live throughout the Amazon forest.
To avoid reaching this point, Páez says it is necessary to present a new economic model that understands natural resources and uses them sustainably. Páez says that at COP26, civil society organizations such as Fundación Pachamama will present bioeconomy initiatives, sustainable transportation, new technologies, and other strategies that are necessary to leave dependence on fossil fuels and to ensure the care of the Amazon.
The abandonment of fossil fuels is a central theme of COP26 that the Ecuadorian government has not addressed in any of its pre-conference speeches, but which is essential.
The experts agree that for increasing the temperature of the Earth does not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius, it is necessary that people definitely leave fossil fuels hydrocarbons such as oil and gas, as well as the coal to 2050.
Carolina Zambrano says that “we are seeing a fall in the investment of fossil fuels in the world”, so Ecuador must start thinking about how to change its energy matrix and its economy not only to align with the net carbon objective proposed by the COP, but also to take care of the environment, indigenous peoples and nationalities, and the biodiversity that the country harbors.