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COP26: Breakthrough or Bust?

A frenetic two weeks of negotiations begin on Sunday, but first the United States must get its own house in order.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
People make their way over the Clyde Arc Bridge following road closures ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 25.
People make their way over the Clyde Arc Bridge following road closures ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, on Oct. 25. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The clock ticks down to COP26 in Glasgow, Israel considers new settlement expansion plans, and Sudan’s prime minister is released from detention.

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Anticipation Mounts as COP26 Looms

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The clock ticks down to COP26 in Glasgow, Israel considers new settlement expansion plans, and Sudan’s prime minister is released from detention.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Anticipation Mounts as COP26 Looms

As Glasgow prepares to host the COP26 U.N. climate conference this weekend, anticipation is building for countries to agree to even deeper cuts to carbon emissions to head off the catastrophic effects of a warming planet.

On Tuesday, the United Nations published a stark assessment of national pledges so far, calculating that they would still make the world 2.7 degrees Celsius warmer than preindustrial levels by 2100. The increase goes well above the 2 degrees Celsius goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In stopping the worst of climate change, every fraction of a degree matters. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates a planet that is 2 degrees warmer makes what would be considered once-in-a-lifetime heat waves in the 19th century almost 14 times as likely while droughts would occur more than twice as often. By targeting 1.5 degrees of warming, the chances of these events occurring goes down significantly—but the risks are still far higher than at preindustrial levels.

This year’s summit is a chance for countries to increase their commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to strike a deal on how to implement aspects of the Paris Agreement such as financing for energy transitions in developing countries.

Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is cautiously optimistic ahead of the summit. “I don’t think it will be a bust,” Cobb told Foreign Policy. “I do think we will see significant movement from where we are to where we want to get to.” How far those pledges may ultimately go, however, is “anybody’s guess,” Cobb added.

Alden Meyer, a senior associate at E3G, a climate policy think tank, said the event is a chance to set the stakes for global climate policy. “The COP is really the place where we hold up a mirror to ourselves as a collective species every year and say, how well are we doing?” Meyer told Foreign Policy.

And while the top-down approach has been abandoned in favor of individual national commitments, the summit can still serve as a moment of influence over skeptical countries, despite ever present domestic concerns. “You can change what they perceive to be their national interest by showing what other countries are doing and by raising the stakes for sticking out like a sore thumb and not doing your share,” Meyer said.

U.S.-China talks. While the world prepares to come together, the world’s two largest emitters continue to hold their own bilateral talks. In London on Wednesday, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry meets with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, as the two seek an avenue of cooperation while other U.S.-China ties deteriorate.

That two-track China policy has become a point of division in the White House, the Washington Post reports, where Kerry reportedly faced opposition from other White House aides in calling for an early summit between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping to advance climate policy.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi voiced his own opposition to the U.S. strategy of challenging China in every arena but keeping an “oasis” for climate cooperation. “Surrounding the oasis is a desert,” Wang said in September, “and the oasis could be desertified very soon.”

Getting the U.S. house in order. The biggest incentive for China, and the world, to commit to deeper emissions cuts would be for the United States to show it also has skin in the game. Biden’s signature spending bill, which includes provisions crucial to the U.S. goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, is currently languishing in negotiations among Democratic lawmakers as Joe Manchin, a senator from the party’s conservative faction, seeks to protect his state’s fossil fuel industry.

Late Tuesday, White House aides remained confident they could reach a deal before Biden leaves for Europe on Thursday.

What We’re Following Today

Israel’s new settlements. Israel prepares to move forward with plans to approve 3,000 new homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, a move that has drawn a rare rebuke from Washington. Speaking on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said the Biden administration was “deeply concerned” with potential settlement expansion, a policy the administration “strongly” opposed.

Price’s comments, taken with his admission Monday that the administration had not been informed prior to Israel’s recent decision to designate six Palestinian civil society organizations as terrorist groups, signal increasing frustration with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government, which faces its own internal divisions over the issues.

Iran talks. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani meets EU senior diplomat Enrique Mora on Wednesday in Brussels as U.S. officials continue to push for a return to the nuclear negotiating table in Vienna.

On Monday, U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley said efforts to return to the talks were entering a “critical phase” and that “shared impatience” was beginning to creep in to the thinking of the United States and its allies. Speaking on Tuesday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden would huddle with French, German, and British leaders (the so-called E3 countries) during his upcoming European travel to seek a “united front” in approaching Iran.

Keep an Eye On

Bolsonaro’s Brazil. A Brazilian Senate investigative committee recommended President Jair Bolsonaro be indicted on a number of criminal charges, including crimes against humanity, for his role in the country’s COVID-19 epidemic. The committee voted 7 to 4 in approving the move, although it’s unlikely Bolsonaro’s hand-picked prosecutor will bring charges against him. As Bolsonaro’s approval ratings continue to slide, he received a vote of confidence from former U.S. President Donald Trump, who endorsed the president ahead of Brazil’s election in 2022.

Sudan’s coup. Sudan’s coup leader Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan defended the military takeover of the country on Tuesday, saying it was necessary to prevent civil war, as he placed blame on political leaders for stalling the country’s political transition. Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok returned to his home in Khartoum on Tuesday after being detained for two days in the home of Burhan. Hamdok is under “heavy security,” according to a Sudanese military official, but it’s not yet confirmed whether he is under house arrest.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on the phone with Hamdok on Tuesday, according to a State Department readout, which called for the release of all civilian officials detained by Sudan’s military.

Odds and Ends

A hiker lost in the mountains of Colorado inadvertently evaded rescue efforts by ignoring the repeated phone calls of a local search team because the calls came from an unknown number. In a Facebook post, Lake County Search and Rescue (SAR) has reminded those in the wilderness after hours to “please answer the phone; it may be a SAR team trying to confirm you’re safe!”

The hiker could be forgiven for trying to avoid the scourge of robocalls, which have helped make the phone function of U.S. cellphones an afterthought and has prompted intervention from U.S. lawmakers, with a law forcing carriers to use robocall-blocking technology or face penalties entering into force last June. The problem has spread to the United Kingdom, where phone companies on Tuesday agreed to begin blocking internet calls that spoof U.K. numbers.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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