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COP26 will be last chance to keep climate change in check, MPs warn

If the upcoming COP26 conference fails to illicit sufficient responses from attendee countries, it may become impossible to limit the average rise in global temperatures to below 2° Celsius, a group of MPs have warned.

In a new report, the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) said that previous conferences “have too often been momentary waypoints” that have not secured the change needed.

COP26, which will be held in Glasgow in November, is being hailed as the most significant global climate conference since the Paris Agreement talks in 2015.

Britain will be presiding over the event for the first time: it was originally due to take place last year, but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The FAC warned that fundamental changes to the economy would need to be agreed for COP26 to be a success in its ambitions to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.

It said that current global commitments are a long way off what will be needed to keep global temperature rises under 1.5°C, the most optimistic target set forth by the Paris Agreement.

“The half-measures and partial promises of previous rounds risk repetition unless the UK can bring partners together to encourage more ambitious climate pledges,” the FAC said.

It added that the appointment of a new US President committed to climate change could help to make the promised measures more meaningful this time round. Biden campaigned on a promise to re-join the Paris Agreement as soon as he entered office, a pledge he immediately fulfilled on his first day in office in January.

The FAC urged the UK to offer technological leadership through investment and said it can be a leader in low-carbon industry.

Continuing uncertainties around restrictions are expected to present some logistical challenges for COP26 given that roughly 30,000 delegates would usually be expected to attend. With only six months until the conference is due to take place, the government has yet to outline any plans for what may happen if numbers of attendees are limited.

There is a distinct possibility that large parts of the summit will have to be moved online or downscaled.

Environment secretary George Eustice and No 10’s climate change tsar Alok Sharma have both said they want to see the conference held in person, despite the pandemic.

FAC chair, Tom Tugendhat MP, said: “Cooperating to manage and even reverse the causes of a changing climate transcends borders. It demands international cooperation and scientific understanding.

“Diplomacy has a critical role to play in the coordinated effort against climate change and the annual COP summits provide a moment to bring world leaders and experts together to assess the continuing challenges and pace of progress.

“Though Covid has changed plans across the world and, for some, shortened horizons, the need for a strategic outlook and more radical thinking has never been more important. The way we trade, travel and interact is so different from only 18 months ago that we must rethink the traditional diplomatic jamboree.”

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