A scientist's guide to making COP26 a success

Mark Maslin at COP26

UCL Professor Mark Maslin gives his top three priorities for COP26 - Credit: Mark Maslin

With COP26 well under way, the threat of the climate emergency is on everyone's minds. But what really needs to be achieved in Glasgow for the conference to be considered a success?

Professor of earth system science Mark Maslin is part of University College London's Climate Hub, an interdisciplinary group of academics researching climate change.

This may not be his first COP, but it is the one Professor Maslin is most concerned about, as this time it is the UK's responsibility to ensure real progress is made.

Professor Maslin shares his top three hopes for COP26 with the Ham&High:

1. All countries to align emission cuts with the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by COP21 in Paris in 2015 and came into force the following year. 

According to the UN, to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees, by 2030 countries must cut emissions by at least 45% compared to 2010 levels.

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Countries submit their own plans for climate action, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs), but these do not necessarily align with the UN's overall goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

For example, at COP26 India has pledged to reach net-zero by 2070 and China by 2060. This is far too late, according to Professor Maslin, and countries must be tied into setting more ambitious targets.

2. $100 billion promised in 2010 to materialise

At COP15 in 2010 in Copenhagen, parties agreed on offering climate finance funding of $100 billion a year by 2020.

This was promised by developed countries with high greenhouse gas emissions to help developing countries fund climate change mitigation.

Professor Maslin says rich countries must now put their money where their mouth is and support countries that rely heavily on fossil fuel to decarbonise as quickly as possible.

3. Tighter regulation on carbon stocks

There must be stronger agreements about protecting the world's carbon sinks, the expert says. Carbon sinks are anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases, for example wetlands, the ocean and forests.

Protecting these vital ecosystems is essential for tackling climate change, and at COP26 over 100 countries, covering 85% of the world’s forests, have already said they will pledge to end deforestation by 2030.

But Professor Maslin warns these promises need to materialise, and countries must go further and start reforesting to ensure the survival of carbon sinks.