COP26 - Cutting through the thicket of terms and acronyms Phiroza Katrak

You’ve probably seen plenty of reference to COP26 in the media or in articles landing in your inbox, often accompanied by a bewildering slew of acronyms, terms, or agreements referenced by cities --- Kyoto, Marrakesh, Paris.   

Let’s start with COP.  The Conference of the Parties, or the United Nations Climate Change Conference if you want its full title, is held annually.  Its presidency rotates each year as does the venue where it is held.  The first was held in Berlin in 1995.

The Kyoto Protocol: An international agreement adopted in December 1997 following COP7, requiring separate ratification by governments. It sets binding targets for the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions by industrialized countries After a long ratification process, it came into force in February 2005.

Marrakesh Accord: Agreements which set various rules for operating the more complex provisions of the Kyoto Protocol.

The Paris Agreement: This is the landmark and legally binding international treaty following COP21 to address climate change.  The main aim is to keep the global average temperature rise this century to no more than 2º Celsius above pre-industrial levels and preferably no more than 1.5º Celsius above pre-industrial levels. 

Postponed from last year, COP26 under the UK’s presidency will commence in Glasgow on 1st November 2021 with a world leaders’ summit and end on 12th November. Its focus is:

  • Securing global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach. It needs countries to set ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets including phasing out of coal, investment in renewables, curtailing deforestation and speeding up the switch to electric vehicles;
  • Adapting to protect communities and natural habitats, protecting and restoring ecosystems and building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture;
  • Mobilising at least $100bn (£74bn) in climate finance per year;
  • Working together to deliver these goals.

Net zero emissions are described as the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced and GHG emissions removed from the atmosphere. A gross zero target would mean reducing all emissions to zero, which is viewed as unrealistic. The net zero target recognises that residual emissions will need off-setting through carbon sinks such as forests.  [The term ‘carbon neutral’ shouldn’t be used interchangeably for net zero.]

Carbon neutrality, or net zero CO2 emissions, is balancing out the total amount of carbon emissions which can also be done by using carbon offsets – not quite as challenging as net zero.

By no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the terms, acronyms and initiatives you may come across:

  • Carbon Trust - Set up in 2001 as a company limited by guarantee by the UK government to help businesses, governments and organisations globally to reduce carbon emissions and achieve greater resource efficiency.
  • sequestration: process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and depositing it in a reservoir. For example, trees are "reservoirs" for carbon dioxide.
  • CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project): A not-for-profit charity that runs the global disclosure system for manging environmental impact. Companies and cities are scored from A to D-, on the comprehensiveness of disclosure, awareness and management of environmental risks.  There are 300 companies and 88 cities on CDP’s 2020 list which are scored ‘A’, the best score.
  • Climate Action 100+: Formed in 2017, it is now the largest investor engagement initiative to encourage the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to take necessary action on climate change. It comprises 615 investment groups managing $60 trillion in assets engaging with 167 companies responsible for more than 80% of global industrial emissions.
  • CRF: Common Reporting Format. Standardised format for reporting estimates of greenhouse-gas emissions and removals and other relevant information.
  • Greenhouse gases (GHGs) - The atmospheric gases responsible for causing global warming and climate change, the major ones are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20). Anthropogenic GHGs are those resulting from human activities.
  • ICCP: International Climate Change Partnership. A global coalition of companies and trade associations committed to constructive participation in policy making on climate change. Not to be confused with IPCC, below.
  • IPCC: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the United Nations’ body for assessing the science related to climate change and provides policymakers with regular objective, science-based assessments. It publishes assessment reports that are widely recognised as the most credible sources of information on climate change.
  • IIGCC: Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change – a European investor body for collaboration on climate change, its membership is mainly asset owners and asset managers. It seeks to drive real progress by 2030 towards a net zero future.
  • NDC: Nationally Determined Contributions: NDCs are the efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change and achieve the long-tern goals of the Pris Agreement. Each country is expected to outline and communicate their domestic climate actions and mitigation measures.
  • Net Zero Asset Managers: Launched in December 2020 and with 128 signatories with $43 trillion of assets under management (March 2021), this initiative supports the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, in line with global efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius; and to supporting investing aligned with net zero emissions by 2050 or sooner.
  • SDG: The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Universal terms are used to articulate and measure impact. [more detail on SDGs here ]
  • SCCF: Special Climate Change Fund, established in 2001 to finance projects relating to adaptation; technology transfer and capacity building; energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management; and economic diversification.
  • TCFD: Taskforce on Climate Related Financial Disclosures. The Financial Stability Board created the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) to improve and increase reporting of climate-related financial information.
  • TPI: Transition Pathway Initiative is a global initiative which assesses companies’ preparedness for the transition to a low-carbon economy, supporting efforts to address climate change.
  • UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its secretariat is the United Nations entity tasked with supporting the global response to the threat of climate change. It has near universal membership with 197 member states as signatories.  

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