In just a few short weeks, the world will go to Glasgow for what is possibly the largest international gathering of the post-Pandemic era (or Pandemic-era, depending on your view of how things are going).
The significance of the gathering, COP 26, is such that the current Government has decided to risk some political capital by sending one of its ministers along. The meeting is already upending international politics, with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison weathering serious criticism for not showing up, including from Prince Charles, who subtly chided Morrison in a recent interview. Morrison later caved, and decided he would attend.
COP stands for the Conference of the Parties - the parties refer to the Governments who have signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC), the big overarching international climate agreement.
Underneath that agreement sits the former Kyoto Protocol, and the current Paris Agreement, which try to implement the initial goal of reducing emissions.
What makes COP 26 significant (the 26 refers to the fact this is the 26th meeting of the group) is that it is the first real opportunity to check in on the agreement made at Paris in 2015 to try to keep global warming "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels, ideally to no more than 1.5C.
Governments would each do this through their NDCs - Nationally Determined Contributions - which split the Paris warming goal into what each nation thought it had to do for the globe to limit warming to a temperature in line with what was agreed at Paris.
These are meant to be reviewed every five years, meaning COP 26 is the first time they will have been reviewed since the Paris Agreement was first signed (the five-year deadline was technically last year, but COP was postponed due to Covid-19).
The United Kingdom, as COP president and host nation, has said the overarching aim for Glasgow is to "keep 1.5 degrees alive" despite the lacklustre emissions ambitions from individual countries, including New Zealand.
The UK is mounting a big diplomatic push to get each country to raise the ambition of their NDCs, bringing them in line with the 1.5C ambition. The key measure of COP 26's success will be whether climate laggards, including New Zealand, can lift their climate ambitions.
The UK's representative in New Zealand, High Commissioner Laura Clarke told the Herald the stakes were high.
"Our view is really, given the drastic pace and scale of climate change, this is our last best chance to really get a grip on it.
"We're gathering countries from all over the world, leaders from all over the world in Glasgow to really see what we can do across the four main priorities," Clarke said.
Those priorities are: "mitigation", which is what can be done to stop climate change through things like cutting emissions using tighter NDCs; "adaptation", which means adapting the world to the effects of climate change; "finance", which is about mobilising global finance to help developing countries adapt, and "collaboration" which will attempt to partner governments with business and other groups in civil society for climate action.
The UK is in a stronger position than most, having been an early mover in the race to lower emissions. Indeed, the UK's Climate Change Committee and climate change legislation, passed more than a decade ago, formed the basis for New Zealand's Zero Carbon Act and Climate Change Commission, which form the backbone of our own efforts to cut emissions.
Clarke said that recent international political trends have been positive. In 2019, when the UK became COP president designate, 30 per cent of the global economy had net zero commitments, now it's 70 per cent.
"You've had the US come back on board with the Paris Agreement. You've had Japan put forward a net zero commitment, China [Net Zero by 2060], Korea - a whole number of countries have come up with new commitments for how they're going to reduce emissions in their own country," Clarke said.
New Zealand has historically sat in the laggard camp when it comes to action on climate change - something Climate Change Minister James Shaw acknowledges, but wants to fix.
In under the now-familiar soporific glow of the Beehive Theatrette lights, Shaw unveiled, on Thursday morning a consultation document for how New Zealand will meet its net zero target. This is not quite the same as our Paris goal, but it is what is necessary to make sure our emissions live up to what was pledged at Paris.
The consultation document - Shaw doesn't like to use the term "draft plan" - is a list of policies the Government thinks it could implement that will cut our emissions to fit within the emissions budgets recommended by the climate change commission.
The policies are dramatic, possibly quite expensive, and - somewhat depressingly - not enough to meet our first emissions budget in 2025.
In fact, it's even worse than that, the Government has decided to give itself more wriggle room with its 2025 goal by relying on tree planting but, even factoring in this looser goal, the Government's draft policy platform comes up short.
While unveiling the plan, Shaw reiterated New Zealand would be making two other big climate commitments. The Government will set itself a new NDC, under the Paris agreement, recognising that its current NDC is not enough to meet its climate ambitions.
The Government will also recommit funding as part of an effort on behalf of developed countries to help developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change - this came on Monday, with the commitment that it will invest $1.3b to help developing countries over the next four years.
New Zealand has been chastised for revising its NDC relatively late in the process. So far, 83 countries and the EU27 have revised their NDCs and New Zealand is not among them.
This will change in the coming weeks.
Shaw told the Herald the negotiations at COP would be "incredibly complex" for New Zealand.
"It's incredibly complex, as you can imagine - there are around 30 different negotiation rooms happening in parallel," Shaw said.
"That's why you have quite a number of officials going because you want to be at the table for those critical negotiations," he said.
The concern for Shaw is that in the last five years there had been a slowing of the post-Paris climate momentum thanks to the pandemic, the Trump administration and the rise of authoritarianism in general.
"There's' a real fraying of consensus around the Paris agreement," Shaw said.
"There's a huge push about the promise the developed world made to developing world, which was at the heart of the Paris agreement," Shaw said.
This was an agreement to provide US$100 billion to the developing world to adapt and reduce emissions.
"At last count we were sitting at $80b," Shaw said.
"The developed world hasn't actually delivered on that. That has led to a breakdown in trust but also it gives some of those more recalcitrant - the petro states, the authoritarian states that aren't really interested in the multilateral system - it's given them an excuse to spike the agreement as well,"
"There's a huge push on to make sure the developed world actually does deliver on [that]," Shaw said.
The very day Shaw announced the Government's commitment to climate aid, the Prime Minister suggested that while an announcement on a new NDC was forthcoming, it had not yet been agreed to - suggesting negotiations were going down to the wire.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson acknowledged this week, discussions were ongoing - despite COP starting in weeks.
Domestically, the Government faces issues too. National, despite signing up to the Paris agreement while in Government, and supporting the Zero Carbon Act, has opposed many of the attempts to put Paris into practice.
National supported the Government's climate-change aid (which is required under the Paris agreement) but argued that the amount of aid should be trimmed and 100 per cent of it targeted to the Pacific - rather than just half, which is the current split.
National is also at the heart of a debate over how much to use forestry to cut our emissions. Forestry allows New Zealand to get close to net zero because trees suck up carbon. However, this has proved controversial in rural communities who fear vast swathes of pasture turning into forest - although the Government advice says this is not currently happening.
Simply planting lots of trees rather than cutting emissions is also a problem because, unless some measures are taken to cut emissions, eventually the Government runs out of places to plant trees.
One less-examined part of COP26 is further negotiations for being able to trade carbon credits internationally using article 6 of the Paris agreement. This means that emissions could be traded across borders - if New Zealand emitted too much, it could be offset against a nation that sequestered a lot of carbon.
This will be crucial for New Zealand, which will likely need to purchase overseas credits to offset emissions.
"We know - this is largely the result of the failure to bring down our domestic emissions over the last 30 years - that even if our existing nationally determined contribution was to remain the same, we would not be able to shift the economy fast enough over the next ten years to be able to achieve it," Shaw said.
In other words, even the current, unambitious target is out of reach without significant help.
"No matter what, we will have to work with other countries in order to bring down global emissions - that's just a given," Shaw said.
"Article six has two parts to it, one is a replacement to the global and centrally managed Kyoto mechanism … the other part is a recognition that countries can do and will co-operate with one another on a bilateral or plurilateral basis and so we need to be continuing to explore that option," Shaw said.
In simple terms, Shaw means that countries are currently agreeing with one another to offset emissions. He cited the example of Switzerland and Peru which have agreed to jointly reduce emissions. Broadly speaking, emissions reduction projects in Peru, which are financed by Switzerland, will count towards Switzerland's emissions targets.
Meanwhile, the Government has other problems on its hands. The Council of Trade Unions wanted the Government that current emissions proposals lack "distributional analysis".
"While references are made to equity, distributional effects, and employment effects, these are not quantified and there is little in the way of plans to address these effects and improve outcomes,"
This is something Shaw agrees with. Unveiling the plan, Shaw warned that governments that fail to solve distributional problems - who pays what - end up like France when it was rocked by the gilet jaunes protests.
Clarke acknowledged that getting strong commitments to reduce emissions would be difficult.
"You almost need to get a bit of virtuous competitiveness going on here as well because there are no legal tools because it's international cooperation," Clarke said.
"Climate change can be a tragedy of the commons but it can also be the best example of how you pull together and co-operate in the face of a really severe threat," she said.