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Postponed COP26 gives momentum to boost ambitions on emission targets

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) on climate change, which was due to take place in Glasgow from November, 9, to November, 20, has been postponed until next year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement comes as the global economy reels and oil prices plunge from the impact of COVID-19.

“The world is currently facing an unprecedented global challenge and countries are rightly focusing their efforts on saving lives and fighting COVID-19. That is why we have decided to reschedule COP26,” reads the statement of Alok Sharma, UK president-designate of COP26.

The yearly meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes stock of the achievements of Member States and adjusts the levels of ambition necessary to deliver on the objective of the Paris Agreement to limit the global temperature increase between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The year 2020 was expected to constitute a turning point for tougher action. By this year governments meant to set long-term 2050 goals to decarbonise their economies, as well as short term targets, also known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), specifying policies until 2030 or 2025, the core building blocks of the Paris Agreement. Parties of the agreement are instructed to publish a new NDC in every five years that should reflect the highest possible ambition in light of the different national circumstances.

The EU’s nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. As the commitment is considered to be insufficient to hold warming below 2 degrees the European Commission has pledged to come up with a proposal for an update of the EU’s NDC by September, after analysing the impact of increasing cuts in emissions to 50-55 per cent. In December last year, the European Council endorsed the objective of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris commitments.

The Commission’s proposal sparked heated debates between the Member States, with some countries like Poland and other Eastern European members voicing their concerns about the universal imposition of binding measures.

“Poland wants to transform the energy sector and economy but we can’t forget that we are joining the transition from a completely different starting point than other countries,” argued Michał Kurtyka, Poland’s Minister of Climate urging the EU to acknowledge the need to diversify the pace of achieving climate neutrality, as well as the fair distribution of funds for financing the transition. “Currently, about 75 per cent of the energy produced in our country comes from coal.”

Hungary was also quick to express its worries regarding the climate law by pointing out the striking contradiction between the lack of ambition in the Commission’s proposal for the EU budget of 2021-2027, that represents only one per cent of the EU’s gross national income (GNI) and the proposed climate law, which calls for a further 15 per cent increase in emission cuts by 2030. Hungarian Minister of State for Energy and Climate Policy, Péter Kaderják stressed that without an increase in budget spending, the burden of delivering on the ambitious 2030 climate targets would be borne by the citizens of the less affluent Member States, which is unacceptable for Hungary.

According to data collected by the European Environmental Agency, greenhouse gas emissions in the EU were down by 23 per cent already in 2017 compared with 1990 levels. And the majority of Central Eastern European countries top the list for cutting their emissions significantly compared to 1990. Mainly all of them overperformed the EU average (with the exception of Poland with -12.8 per cent and Slovenia with -6.4 per cent). The biggest decreases were reported for Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and Estonia with -58, -57, -54 and -48 per cent respectively.

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