5 Alarming Studies That Show Why the COP26 Climate Summit Is Important

World leaders are meeting at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, U.K., to discuss the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement and how they intend to combat global warming. The conference is being billed as humanity's final opportunity to tackle climate change.

The consensus of science is clear—human activities are driving climate change. The five papers outlined below, published in the lead up to COP26, show just how important it is that leaders take climate change seriously.

Humanity Is Driving Global Warming. 99.997 Percent Of Scientists Agree

As Newsweek previously reported, a review of scientific literature released ahead of the COP26 meeting, scheduled to last from October 31 to November 12, showed that over 99.9997 percent of climate science published since 2012 concludes humans are driving climate change.

The study reviewed over 90,000 climate science studies published between 2012 and 2020 and found just 28 papers that were considered skeptical of human-driven climate change. Furthermore, none of these skeptical studies were published in a major journal.

Research published since the 2020 cut-off point considered in this review project also points out the potential harm to both the planet and human health if greenhouse emissions are not limited to bringing warming in line with the 2C limit set by the Paris Agreement.

The Burning Of Fossil Fuels Is Killing Us

A review published ahead of COP26 by the World Health Organization (WHO) warned world leaders that serious climate action must be taken now to improve global public health and potentially save millions of lives.

The WHO report delivers a clear message to world leaders, stating: "The burning of fossil fuels is killing us. Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity.

"Protecting people's health from climate change requires transformational action in every sector, including on energy, transport, nature, food systems, and finance. The public health benefits from implementing these ambitious climate actions far outweigh their costs."

The WHO report concluded that this transformation could prevent approximately 11 million deaths per year globally, or between 19 to 24 percent of the total number of adult deaths.

WHO said changes to agriculture alone could help the three billion people on planet Earth who currently have no access to a healthy, sustainable, and affordable diet. This could help prevent the 5.1 million diet-related deaths a year by 2050, said WHO's environment, climate change, and health director Maria Neira.

The report also adds that the combustion of fossil fuels causes large environmental, health, and economic damage, and is a major contributor to air pollution, which kills seven million people every year.

"Bringing down air pollution to WHO guideline levels, for example, would reduce the total number of global deaths from air pollution by 80 percent," Neira added.

The WHO release is not the only recent report that will be likely the subject of much discussion at COP26.

Burning Of Fossil Fuels
An image of Iraqi fishermen rowing past flare stacks at the Nahr Bin Omar field, north of the southern Iraqi port of Basra. The WHO has warned the delegates of COP26 that the burning of fossil fuels is killing us. HUSSEIN FALEH/Getty

The IPCC Gets Serious

In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produced their most comprehensive assessment of climate change to date. The report indicated that unless dramatic attempts are made to reduce emissions, temperatures will continue to rise and extreme weather conditions will continue.

It in no uncertain terms its conclusion on climate change, with its very first line reading: "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land."

Reuters reported that this marked a stark change in language from the IPCC's previous reports. Climatologist at the University of Oxford and author of the IPCC paper told Reuters: "There is no uncertainty language in this sentence because there is no uncertainty that global warming is caused by human activity and the burning of fossil fuels."

'Business-as-usual' changes aren't enough

A new paper authored by 126 researchers from across the globe and published in the journal Nature Climate Change tackles this question by asking what adaptions have been made globally, and what the effects of these changes have been?

"We screened approximately 48,000 scientific journal articles on climate change and adaptation and filtered that down to 1,682 academic papers that document adaptation actions around the world," University of Delaware disaster researcher A.R. Siders said in a statement. "We analyzed those papers to figure out how much adaptation is happening, what types of adaptations are occurring, and whether there is any evidence that these adaptation actions are reducing risks associated with climate change."

The team discovered that while many countries and organizations were taking climate action, this action was fragmented and small "business-as-usual" adaptions that aren't the transformations that might be needed to combat climate change.

"We expect that climate change will make life harder in a lot of ways. It's going to make it too hot to grow crops; there will be more droughts, heatwaves, floods," Siders said. "Complicating matters, whether we're doing 'enough' depends on how bad climate change is going to get, which depends on whether we cut emissions, so it's a whole feedback cycle."

Improving to meet climate goals in the future could hinge on understanding why efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions over the past three decades have not been successful.

Global CO2 emissions have rise 60 percent since 1990

The authors of a study published in the journal Annual Review of Environment and Resources ahead of COP26 asked why emissions are higher today than they were in 1990.

Examining this question through nine key areas, which included international climate governance, the vested interests of the fossil-fuel industry, geopolitics, and militarism, the authors concluded that the answer lies in the role political and economical power have played in determining emissions.

"Behind the delay in emission reductions are everything from geopolitical, military and industrial interests and modes of thought to the assumptions on which research and knowledge production are based in fields such as economics, energy, and climate," lead author and Acting Program Director at the Centre for Environment and Development Studies at the University of Uppsala and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Isak Stoddard, said. "This has contributed to a 60 percent rise in global carbon dioxide emissions since 1990, despite decades of international negotiations, research, and all sorts of attempts to take action."

Stoddard added that while he sees the COP26 discussions as being valuable, the study that he conducted shows that because of the design of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, deadlocks that arise as a result of geopolitical considerations can hinder progress.

"There is definitely value in holding such discussions between countries at this level," Stoddard said. "The changes we need to see must also happen from the ground up and, of course, in different ways in all of the various societies and cultures around the world."

COP26 Protest
A protester at COP26 sends a message to world leaders. Ahead of the conference the wealth of scientific research was published that exemplifies the plight climate change presents. BEN STANSALL/Getty