What is COP26 - and why is it important?
In the conversation around climate change, the COP26 conference is expected to be a pivotal moment in creating a greener planet for all.
But what is COP26, why is it happening, and with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic – will it even go ahead?
COP26 is the 2021 United Nations (UN) climate change conference.
For nearly three decades, the UN has brought together almost every country on earth for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’.
In that time, climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority.
This year will be the 26th annual summit – giving it the name COP26.
When & Where
With the UK as President, in partnership with Italy, COP26 takes place in Glasgow from 1 - 12 November 2021.
In the run up to COP26, the UK will work with every nation to reach an agreement on how to tackle climate change.
More than 190 world leaders will arrive in Scotland, joined by tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens for twelve days of talks.
COP26 is not just another international summit. Most experts believe this conference has a unique urgency.
To understand why, let’s look back at a previous COP.
During COP21 in Paris in 2015, and for the first time ever, every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims.
Here, the Paris Agreement was born.
The commitment to aim for 1.5 degrees is important because every fraction of a degree of warming will result in the loss of many more lives and livelihoods damaged.
Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions. They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time.
The run up to this year’s summit in Glasgow is the moment (delayed by a year due to the pandemic) when countries update their plans for reducing emissions. The commitments laid out in Paris did not come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the window for achieving this is closing.
That’s why the decade to 2030 will be crucial.
As momentous as Paris was, countries must go much further to keep the hope of holding temperature rises to 1.5 alive.
COP26 needs to be the place where decisive action is taken.
So, what exactly do we need to achieve at COP26?
Here are the four goals that have been set out:
- Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach - Countries will come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching this goal.
- Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats - The climate is already changing with devastating effects. COP26 will be a chance to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to protect and restore its ecosystems as well as build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives.
- Mobilise finance - To deliver on the first two goals, developed countries must follow through on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.
- Work together to deliver - We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together. At COP26, the world must finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational) and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and society.
Originally due to take place in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the conference being postponed to November this year. At the moment, the government has said there are no plans to delay the crucial climate change summit for a second time.
Conservative MP Alok Sharma, who is the president of the climate summit, believes the summit needed to be a mainly physical event. However, with the conference expected to attract tens of thousands of attendees, it is yet to be seen whether this will go ahead.
There are some concerns that the worsening COVID pandemic in parts of the world could force organisers to radically change it, or even push the event back to 2022. Contingencies for COP26 could include scaling down the event or going partly virtual, however no active plans have been put in place yet.
Whilst we’re still not sure what COP26 will look like – or if it will even go ahead in November – one thing remains certain. The conference will be vital is setting out plans to reduce emissions, put a stop to global warming and help tackle climate change once and for all.