From competing to collaborating: the COP & borderless action

The Road to COP26 is a series of articles exploring the impact that COP26 will have on the future climate. The first article in the series gave an overview of COP26’s history and mission. This next installment explains why cross-border efforts are essential in the global effort to combat climate change, and how the COP is leading the way there.

One planet, one atmosphere, one responsibility

Greenhouse gas emissions know no borders. The exhaust from a car driving on a freeway in Los Angeles won’t limit itself to lingering above California, or even the United States – the carbon emitted will disperse throughout the atmosphere, contributing to climate change everywhere on the globe.

Even so, efforts to combat climate change have historically been discussed as national responsibilities: that it’s up to individual countries (especially the biggest emitters) to reduce their emissions on their own.

Find the interactive visualization at the World Resources Institute

It’s true that some countries emit more greenhouse gases than others, as the visualiztion from the World Resources Institute shows. But no single country can stop climate change on their own. Even if China – the largest emitter of greenhouse gases – were to achieve net zero emissions tomorrow, the global temperature would still be on a path to increase far above 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Moreover, singling out individual countries breeds resentment, especially when measures to combat climate change are presented as sacrifices – which frames compliance with green measures as potentially harmful to a country’s economy or growth.

Collaboration, not competition

“The American way of life is not up for negotiations. Period.” – U.S. President George Bush Sr., justifying the United States’ reluctance to agree to emissions reductions goals before the Rio Summit in 1992.

In the late 20th century, as the pace of globalization accelerated, the world market was connected like never before. Developed nations were dealing with increasing competition from newly-powerful emerging economies, who themselves were competing to stake claim to manufacturing and trade positions. Governments had no patience for hindrances to their national growth – so it was an exceptionally difficult landscape in which to be asking countries to agree to emissions reductions, especially when these nations equated “reduce emissions” with “reduce your growth.”

The UN-backed Climate Change Conference – abbreviated COP for its original title, “Conference of Parties” – played a crucial role in bridging the gap between national governments.

For a detailed history of the COP, see the first article in our Road to COP26 series.

The first COP was held in Berlin in 1995. Only two years later, the Kyoto protocol was signed by the vast majority of the world’s countries. The Kyoto protocol committed its signatory countries to limiting and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet agreed-upon targets. Vitally, these targets weren’t imposed on the countries by an outside authority: the countries set the targets themselves, and the targets were approved by a special commission.

The fact that nearly every country was making the same effort contributed to increased engagement all around the world. Nations no longer saw committing to reducing their emissions as giving themselves an economic disadvantage. Instead, countries were becoming part of the global effort to save the planet’s environment and secure the wellbeing of its inhabitants.

COP 26 is taking place in Glasgow in November 2021. To understand how COP organizes the world around climate action, and what its decisions mean for countries & businesses, stay tuned for the next installment of The Road to COP26 and follow us on LinkedIn to keep up to date with the latest in emissions reporting.

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