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Will COP26 help us to return to planetary limits?

10/11/2021 - Rachel Cooper (Operations Manager)


Nations have come together 25 times to discuss action on climate change yet global emissions have continued to rise. Right now, they are meeting for the 26th time at the Conference of the Parties (COP26) - the annual climate summit convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in Glasgow. Representatives of the 197 member countries, scientists and activists have come together to negotiate emissions targets and decarbonization pathways, policies to help vulnerable communities adapt to the changing climate, and how to fund it all.


One week in, things are looking grim. The International Energy Agency have suggested that current net-zero pledges plus the Global Methane Pledge would limit global warming to 1.8°C. However, Selwin Hart, special adviser to the UN secretary-general on climate action, challenged this, stating: “… based on the nationally determined contributions that have been submitted, the world is on a 2.7-degree pathway – a catastrophic pathway.”[1]


The grass-roots response has been incredible with an estimated 10,000 people protesting for greater action outside COP26– the largest protest in Glasgow since 2003. Parallel demonstrations took place around the globe in 100 other countries.


At PAN, we are in strong support of these protests – hoping they will encourage global leaders to align Nationally Determined Commitments with science to limit warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Decisions made at COP26 are likely to be a critical determining factors for the state of the planet for the next 10,000 years.


We were very pleased to see the commitments to ending deforestation. Planetary Accounting shows us that we not only need to end deforestation, we need to reach reforestation rates of 11 million hectares per year to return to and safe planetary limits for Climate Change, Land Use, and Biosphere Integrity.


Another exciting outcome we have seen in the COP news is the use of carbon labels on food menu items. Imagine if this could be expanded to include the impacts of products on all planetary limits with indicators such as biodiversity, water, and nitrogen footprints in addition to carbon footprint. PAN is undertaking some exciting work doing just this! You can find more information about PAN’s Planetary Facts Labels on our website.


While we remain hopeful that the outcomes of COP26 will align efforts to 1.5°C trajectories, we encourage global leaders not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Climate change is just one of nine Planetary Boundaries we need to respect if we are to avoid irreversible and catastrophic change. If we develop decarbonization pathways that don’t consider biodiversity, water consumption, eutrophication impacts, and waste generation we will not have mitigated this global environmental challenge before us.


If you are keen to find out more about how to extend your thinking from carbon to planetary boundaries we’d love to hear from you!

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