All eyes on COP26, one of the most important global climate conferences in years

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Next week marks the beginning of the annual ambitious United Nations climate change conference, known as COP26 (this year is the 26th time that countries have convened). Hosted in Glasgow, England, this year, more than 25,000 people from around the world will attend the conference, including around 120 heads of state.

You’ll likely see plenty of headlines and videos of the event. Why this year? It’s a big one. This year, countries will return with firm new climate commitments, following up on the plans they put together for the Paris Agreement nearly a decade ago. The world is not on track to meet those agreements and stay within the agreed-upon 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming and avoid severe impacts of climate change, so there’s renewed attention.

Scientists and politicians have called the 2020s the most critical decade for the climate — if greenhouse gas emissions can peak soon and be reduced rapidly, we can keep cumulative emissions from growing too much, and still have a chance of staying within the upper bound between 1.5C and 2C. Still, we’re locked into around 1.5 for the next few decades, however, in the best-case scenario.

One of this year’s main focuses is climate finance. The United Nations is expected to push for developed nations to allocate financial support to help developing nations fight against climate change — many countries that are less economically developed, such as small island states and those in the Global South, are already feeling disastrous climate impacts such as sea-level rise and extreme heat that they lack the resources to adequately recover from.

From ClimateAi’s home country of the U.S., President Joe Biden will attend. He’s expected to emphasize the U.S. goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions 50–52% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, but in the background here, the climate pieces of his large infrastructure bill called “Build Back Better” are at the risk of being gutted.

Graphic from EPA report, “Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2019.”

At COP26, the most buzz will be around national commitments, but be on the lookout for private-sector commitments, too. They can help to confront climate change and other intersecting crises. In fact, a 2018 assessment by two Vanderbilt University climate change specialists estimated that private actions can close 10 to 30 percent of the so-called “Paris Gap,” the difference between the 2015 Paris climate accord and what that agreement will achieve by 2030 if all countries comply with their commitments.

As companies set their own emissions mitigation targets and their own climate risk strategies, they also have a part to play in helping people adapt to their new climate realities. Building climate-resilient infrastructure in key industries like agriculture, construction, manufacturing, healthcare, and more is crucial to helping people survive in a warming world. It’s also a business opportunity for forward-thinking companies.

The pressure’s on, from both COP26 and from the increasing impacts of climate change. Now we wait for commitments, decisions, and most importantly, action.

Accelerating climate resilience in food, water, and energy