COP26 starts this weekend, bringing together governments, NGOs and other key stakeholders to accelerate action towards the Paris Agreement and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This COP is crucial to ensuring we achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Since the negotiations can be challenging to follow from the ‘outside’, Net Impact Amsterdam volunteer, Camilla de Nardis interviewed climate negotiations expert and COP insider Sandra Guzmán, Manager at the Climate Policy Initiative, to get her take on what we can expect from COP26.

How did you get involved in climate negotiation?

During my studies I started being interested in how international agreements related to climate change affect national policy, and to what extent these international regimes can really drive the changes that we need at the national level. I have been working mainly in climate finance. This is related not only to how much money is flowing from developed countries to developing countries to comply with the agreements, like the Paris Agreement, but also to how countries are incorporating climate change into their national spending, including the decarbonization of public finance systems. Because if you don’t allocate money to those climate “commitments” nothing really will happen.

For many years I have been participating as advisor of governments related to climate finance, as well as I have been working in advocacy and dissemination activities to raise awareness about these issues. For almost two years I was collaborating with the Standing Committee on Finance, which is the body within the UNFCCC that follows the climate finance conversation and I’m one of the consultants that support the elaboration of the report that will be presented during the COP related to the climate change needs of developing countries. This year I have been also working in the creation of a south-south collaborative group in climate finance and we have been advising governments and NGOs about what needs to happen in the COP to make it successful.

What are the key topics that you think will matter most at this COP?

This COP is particularly complex because we are in the context of a pandemic, which is a mayor elephant in the room. Tackling climate change suddenly started to feel more like an additional thing instead of the main problem. Since 2016 we have been discussing the rules of the Paris agreement and there are two main topics that have not been solved yet.

The first one is Article 6, which relates to carbon markets and the possibility to trade carbon emissions. This mechanism was devised as part of the Kyoto Protocol when it was mainly the developed countries that had to reduce emissions and the developing countries where the ones that were selling their emission rights. Now, in the context of the Paris Agreement, all countries have to reduce emissions. So if you trade emissions, you have to be sure that those emissions will be counted for two parties. This creates questions about who owns the reductions, how to verify that those reductions are well measured, and how to ensure that those transactions are transparent. A major criticism is that we shouldn’t be talking about compensation, but about reduction. I don’t think that we will be able to sort out all the technicalities of Article 6 because it’s an extremely complex issue, but hopefully we will be able to agree on the principles of what a market mechanism for carbon emissions can look like.

The second important point is loss and damage, which refers to fact that there are a lot of countries, often developing or emerging countries, that have already undergone significant damage due to climate change. The big question is: who is going to pay for it? That’s going to be a key conversation at the COP. The ideal scenario would be to have a mechanism or an agreement about how to pay for loss and damage in a way that is fair for everyone.

When talking about climate finance, what needs to happen at this COP?

I would say that there are two main things that need to happen at this COP.

The first one is about the commitment (agreed on at the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, ed.) from developed countries to transfer US$100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020. There is no evidence that they comply with that commitment. That’s a big issue. It’s not about the amount of money, which is not even enough to cover all the climate change impacts, but it’s about trust, which is key to achieve agreements at international level. According to the Paris agreement, we have to create a new goal on climate finance by 2025, which should be higher than 100 billion a year. The problem is that we don’t know how much is going to cost to tackle climate change all around the world. I think one very important point is to have a good plan to determine what is that goal, instead of having just a political commitment. 

Another key element in this COP is adaptation. This COP should deliver a plan related to adaptation to build strong bridges with the next COP, which will take place in Africa. We need to increase finance for adaptation and put adaptation at the same level of importance as mitigation. Finance for mitigation has been growing and is still around 80% of the financial flows, while climate adaptation flows are between 15-20%, or even less.

Do you see a specific actor taking a lead role in this transition?

Governments need to lead. They need to provide good policies, good incentives, and good allocation of money. But of course, it’s not possible to pay for everything with public money. That is when the private sector comes in. Companies play an important role but they should not try to solve the problem in isolation or in parallel of the governments.  I think it’s important to bring all the different actors on board. This includes the academic sector, which can bring more and better information about the quality of interventions that we have to do, and the civil society, which needs to keep raising awareness about why this is important. It’s how you put together all the efforts to really make this transition happen.

Some people are critical of climate negotiations and are worried that words rather than actions will be the outcome of this COP. What is your view on that?

I have been working on climate change for the last 16 years, and if I go back, I can see a massive difference. Back then, talking about climate change with the finance ministers, for instance, was completely unthinkable. Now you have finance ministers joining together in a coalition with the World Bank and you see many actors at the institutional level involved in in this conversation. Renewable energy is gaining momentum around the world, also in developing countries.

We are now talking about the protection of nature as a key element of the whole world economy, which is something that never happened before. You would be labelled as a tree hugger if you mentioned the forest, while now we realize that if we don’t protect forests and don’t conserve all the biodiversity, we are done. These dynamics obviously take time.

Things are changing, but it’s true that things are not changing at the speed that we need to stabilize emissions. I would say that a lot of things are happening that need to be accelerated for sure, but I definitely feel positive about the future.

Sandra Guzmán is Manager at Climate Policy Initiative based in the UK. She is the Founder of the Climate Finance Group for Latin America and the Caribbean (GFLAC). Sandra has a PhD from the University of York (UK) and a Master’s Degree on Environmental Policy and Regulation from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is specialized in climate policy and climate finance. Sandra is the former Climate Change Director in the Environmental Ministry of Mexico. She started to work in the climate change international negotiations in 2006, and has actively participated in every COP since 2008.