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Political leadership needed for success at COP26, says Sarmad

The progress made at the May-June UN Climate Change Conference leaves the international community “well positioned to achieve success” at the crucial UN Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, according to UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary, Ovais Sarmad.

Ovais Sarmad
Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change Secretariat

But political will and leadership is required to reach consensus on key sticking points, and nations must make use of key political opportunities before COP26 so that the conference can be a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change.

“I feel there is a new enthusiasm and a new momentum around international climate action that we haven’t experienced since the adoption of the Paris Agreement. There is a renewed appetite for progress,” Mr. Sarmad said, addressing the Chatham House virtual conference “Climate Change 2021”.

Mr. Sarmad highlighted the signs of optimism and transformation in the private sector, best reflected in the global Race to Zero campaign, which works to mobilise governments, businesses and civil society to achieve full carbon neutrality as quickly as possible and at the latest by 2050, with more than 4,500 companies, cities, regions, financial, educational and healthcare institutions having joined since its inception a year ago.

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Four Key elements for Success at COP26

The Deputy UN Climate Change Chief outlined four key elements for success at COP26. These are:

  • Wrapping up outstanding negotiations;
  • Raising ambition to reduce emissions, adapt to climate impacts and to provide finance to close existing gaps between global expectations and political commitments;
  • Re-engaging with civil society and non-Party stakeholders in a unity of purpose; and
  • Delivering on the pledge by developed countries to mobilize USD 100 billion annually to support developing nations.

According to Mr. Sarmad, the biggest sticking point in the UN climate change negotiations is Article 6 of the Paris Agreement related to carbon markets.

However, a successful COP26 implies more than getting one or two big decisions. “It will mean that nations must achieve a balanced package of decisions reflecting expectations, concerns and needs of all stakeholders in multiple areas,” he said.

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Tough Decisions needed to reach 1.5 C degrees Paris goal

Mr. Sarmad said that whilst countries are still far from achieving the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 C degrees above pre-industrial levels, there is potential for advancement towards this goal.

“We can talk about overcoming differences and we can talk about urgency, but it’s simply talk unless leaders make the tough decisions necessary to bridge existing gaps and reach consensus;” he said.

“With respect to current obstacles, we know the contentious issues. We also know the options on the table. What we need are political decisions to be made. There are opportunities for these decisions and this leadership in the next few months leading up to COP26,” he added.

Key opportunities include the UN General Assembly in September, the pre-COP series of discussions that will take place in Milan from 30 September to 2 October, and the G20 Summit that will be held in Rome in October.

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“It’s crucial that the message coming from the G20 countries, responsible for 80% of global emissions, is one of specific commitments and rising global climate ambition,” Mr. Sarmad said.

Finally, Ovais Sarmad stressed that the work of the UN Climate Change secretariat extends well beyond COP26, given that the role of the secretariat is to keep the focus of the international community on the longer-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

This work covers long-term climate action strategies and the Global Stock Take, with the first such stocktaking exercise happening from 2021 to 2023 and feeding into the process of updated national climate action plans for 2025.

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