In less than 100 days COP26 will start.  Many agree that this year’s conference is being held at a critical moment.

To underscore how important this moment is, Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres reminds us that this is the first hard test of the provisions of the Paris Agreement.

So we could better understand what the conference means and why it is important we asked Ms. Figueres, Professor Michael Mann, and Founder Bill McKibben for their thoughts on what success might look like.

Here is what they had to say:

What outcome would make COP26 a success?

McKibben: A truly strong commitment to climate finance for the developing world–and an explicit acknowledgement that they are owed a great deal.

Figueres: COP26 is the first COP since the Paris Agreement that will test countries´ capacity and willingness to upgrade their efforts as compared to those registered in 2015.

  1. COP26 must be a credible and ambitious rise in efforts to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. The sum total of all efforts must keep alive the possibility of an eventual temperature rise that does not go beyond 1.5 degrees.
  2. We must step up in the climate finance provided by the global North to the global South. The commitment was $100 billion per year starting in 2020. We are still hovering around $70 Billion.   We must close that gap to regain the trust of developing countries.
  3. There must be the finalization of the Paris rulebook which includes agreement on a price on global pollution.
  4. There must be a decidedly strengthened collaboration across all sectors of society, without which we will not be able to meet the scale and speed needed to half emissions by 2030.

Mann: Actionable pledges on the part of major carbon producing countries, including the U.S., China, Australia, Canada, EU, UK, Russia, and others to ramp carbon emissions down substantially over the next decade.

What might prevent that from happening?

Figueres: There are of course many challenges on the way toward delivering the outcomes, but perhaps the one that looms the largest is the unfulfillment of the finance pledge.   Promises made must be kept, otherwise a lack of trust undermines the whole process.

Mann: This is the subject of my book “The New Climate War”. In short, while outright climate denial has largely disappeared since the impacts of climate change are now clear to all, polluters and those promoting their agenda haven’t given up the fight. They’re simply turning to other tactics: delay, distraction, deflection, division, despair-mongering in their efforts to block effort to decarbonize our economy. We must recognize those tactics and fight back — again, that’s what my book is about.

What results would make COP26 a disappointment?

McKibben: Every oil producing country continuing to insist that they should be allowed to get their reserves out of the ground.

Figueres: A limited delivery of the four above goals.

Mann: A lack of actionable pledges on the part of major carbon producers to ramp carbon emissions down substantially over the next decade. Over-reliance on speculative future tech and geoengineering and promises of carbon capture decades down the road must not be allowed to be used as a crutch to take the pressure off carbon polluters to reduce carbon emissions now.

Five years from now, will COP26 be viewed as a significant moment in the fight against climate change?  Why or why not?

McKibben: It’s definitely going to be a significant moment. If we’re to meet the IPCC timeline–halve emissions by 2030–it’s the last chance to really organize the planet for the effort.

Figueres: Yes, because it is the first hard test of the provisions of the Paris Agreement which act as mileposts toward the necessary decarbonization by 2050.   If we don’t make this milepost, it will put more pressure on the next few mileposts.

Mann: I state the following at the end of “The New Climate War”:


As we pass the milestone of the fiftieth anniversary of the very

first Earth Day (April 22, 1970), I believe that we are at a critical

juncture. Despite the obvious political challenges we currently face,

we are witnessing an alignment of historical and political events—

and acts of Mother Nature—that are awakening us to the reality of

the climate crisis. We appear to be nearing the much-anticipated

tipping point on climate action. In a piece titled “The Climate Crisis

and the Case for Hope” published in September 2019, my friend

Jeff Goodell, a writer for Rolling Stone, posited that “a decade or so

from now, when the climate revolution is fully underway and Miami

Beach real estate prices are in free-fall due to constant flooding, and

internal combustion engines are as dead as CDs, people will look

back on the fall of 2019 as the turning point in the climate crisis.”

We can debate the precise date of the turning point. But I concur

with Jeff’s larger thesis.

So much has changed since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015. Companies now openly speak of setting emission reduction targets and use phrases like net-zero. Elected officials around the world push for ideas like the Green New Deal and governments pledge to build back better.  Rhetorically things have never been better when it comes to fighting climate change.

As our panel highlights for all the progress that has been made there is still much work to do when it comes to climate change.  COP26 offers an opportunity to show that we are committed to turning good rhetoric into reality and how seriously we take the Paris Agreement.

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