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Dr Petra Minnerop, Durham University

20 January 2021, 4:35 UTC Share

Creating a climate of engagement at a critical juncture

Durham University’s Dr Petra Minnerop discuses the importance of policy and public engagement, within and across states, in the lead up to COP 26.

The 26th Conference of Parties under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP 26) is scheduled to be held in Glasgow, United Kingdom, from 1 to 12 November 2021. COP 26 will bring together thousands of government officials, members of civil society and other experts on climate change issues. While much advancement has been made since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, the implementation of the Paris Agreement requires continued and co-ordinated action by States as well as reaching agreement on outstanding matters.

With many challenges related to raising ambition, closing the mitigation and the adaption gaps, and the task of providing additional guidance on implementing the Paris Agreement, the stakes are high to make COP26 a success. The UK will be assuming the COP 26 presidency, in partnership with Italy, and this provides the opportunity not only for the UK government post-Brexit to shape its ‘Global Britain’ policy, but for universities and researchers to actively engage with the UNFCCC process, the negotiations and the agenda of this global conference. The agenda for COP26, including tasks such as updating first and submitting second nationally determined contributions, capacity building, developing market and non-market mechanisms, technology transfer and finance, also provides a framework for research.

Many states have updated their initial pledges under the Paris Agreement, and some recovery packages include strategies to facilitate a ‘green recovery’ from the current COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has undoubtedly brought into sharp focus the contribution that research and scientific evidence can make to public and political life, economic development and informed governmental decision-making. It has also stressed that preparation and addressing global crises timely and collectively is key to success. Not only the urgency and importance of scientifically driven action in addressing two global crises simultaneously can be enforced at a global stage, yet also a positive message that achieving ambitious targets is feasible if solidarity among states prevails.

COP 26 can therefore renew the public awareness for climate change and its grave and measureable impacts on humanity and biodiversity, and it can be used to facilitate communication between researchers, policy makers and the public. To that end, collaboration across the University sector, such as via the COP26 Universities Network, led by the Grantham Institute, Imperial College, is important to showcase the collective strength and the contribution of UK research, to portray the full picture of solutions that are already developed through research, and to foster further innovation and potential for collaboration in the context of climate change research.

My own research concerns the intersection of climate law and science, and the development of climate change law at the international and domestic level. It will be very interesting to see how this year, negotiations will address unfinished business and take the Paris Agreement forward, in making its provisions fully operational and adding further to the Katowice Climate Package – the so-called Paris Rulebook. We hope that Durham’s strength in interdisciplinary research, supported through institutes such as the Durham Energy Institute and Institute for Hazard Risk and Resilience, set us in good stead for convening discussions and events that map on to some of these priority areas for the conference.

As one of the highlights of our planning process and in preparation for COP 26, the Centre for International Law of the National University of Singapore, Durham Law School and the World Commission on Environmental Law are pleased to offer a series of lectures by leading experts in climate change law in the Road to COP 26 Preparatory Lecture Series. This monthly series of 90-minute lectures will provide an expert overview of the key issues that will be discussed during COP 26, in the context of past COPs and the UNFCCC legal framework. The course is aimed at government officials, academics, NGOs and others who will be attending COP26 and/or seek a better understanding of the expected negotiations under the international climate change regime.

Extending our networks and partnerships across the sector, and between academia and policy-makers, will drive research innovation further, it will add to delivering an inter-disciplinary student experience and climate change education which lives up to the promises of the Paris Agreement. This comprises academic and practical approaches to the climate emergency – a common concern of humankind and one of the greatest challenges for the 21st century.

Dr Petra Minnerop is Associate Professor of International Law at Durham Law School and academic lead for Durham’s COP26 planning. Her current research covers issues related to the climate emergency and the international legal response to it.

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