I’m in southern Michigan for the weekend, which is where I spent most of the first 30 years of my life. This is the first time in several years that I’ve been here in October, and I was shocked by the sight of the trees. They’re still almost completely green — basically they’ve turned about as much as they would have by mid-September when I was in high school in the mid-late 1970s.
Here’s a summary of what’s supposed to happen at COP26, which starts in a little more than a week.
Some thorny issues that derailed past meetings, such as payments for developing countries that are living through climate disasters, remain unresolved. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic, which delayed COP26 from its original dates in November 2020, is still claiming thousands of lives per day, leading to national lockdowns and disrupting trade. Even after a year of devastating hurricanes, heat waves, and wildfires, climate change may not be every country’s top priority.
But there’s no time to lose: The window for meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement is closing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2018 that staying below 1.5°C of warming required the world to roughly halve emissions from current levels by 2030. This year, the IPCC reported that the world is poised to miss this target even in the most optimistic scenarios they studied.
“Scientists tell us that this is the decisive decade,” Biden said in April. “This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis.”
Some countries, seeing the brightening spotlight of COP26, have begun to announce more aggressive climate goals in the runup to the meeting. This week, the UK put out its road map for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century. But the most scrutiny will fall on the world’s largest emitters — China, the US, and India — and whether they will take tangible steps to curb their pollution. Biden and the US delegation are now counting on Congress to pass a suite of climate policies to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table.