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What is COP26? A simple guide to the UN Conference

There is much anticipation for the upcoming COP26 event taking place from 31 October until 12 November in Glasgow, here in the UK. The 2021 UN summit could be the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control. But what exactly is COP26 and what does it hope to achieve?

Here’s a simple guide.

What is a COP?

It stands for Conference of the Parties, a UN climate change conference where national leaders come together to discuss action on climate change. They occur annually and this will be the 26th meeting of the parties. Every year it is hosted by a different country to ensure all regions are represented. This year (after a year’s delay due to the pandemic) the UK is co-hosting with Italy with the main conference taking place in Glasgow.

Under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), every country is bound by treaty to “avoid dangerous climate change”. They must all work towards finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way. The annual meetings are a way to help achieve this under the UNFCCC.

Over 120 world leaders will gather in the first few days of the conference. They will then leave it to their representatives (environment ministers and senior officials) to conduct the complex negotiations. Around 25,000 people are expected to attend!

What does COP26 hope to achieve?

The Paris Agreement, which happened in 2015, marked a landmark moment in stepping up commitments to tackling climate change. At COP26, our national leaders will discuss how to accelerate action towards achieving the goals of the Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Nations committed to keeping global temperature rises “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, while taking steps to limit global heating to 1.5C. Those goals are legally binding and enshrined in the treaty.

To meet these goals, non-binding national targets were agreed. However, those goals are not enough to keep us below a 1.5C temperature increase. As such, the treaty also laid out that countries would have to come back every five years with new commitments. So, we are now overdue that first revision of commitments, due to the pandemic.

Many people are hoping to see those revised targets from all countries in time for COP26 in line with the 1.5C goal.

Scientists estimate that emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2030, compared with 2010 levels. From there we must reach net zero emissions by 2050. That will be the only way to ensure the world has a good chance of staying within the 1.5C threshold.

There are also three other areas that this climate conference intends to focus on, as outlined in COP26 Explained.

There will be discussions on how we can adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. Our climate is already changing resulting in disastrous impacts on our most vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

Mobilising finance will be a key goal as finance will be required to achieve the transition to net zero and adaptation to the inevitable impacts of climate change. It is stated that developed countries will have to raise $100 billion in climate finance to fund the necessary steps towards achieving global net zero.

Underlying these goals is the need to work together to deliver. The plan is for the Paris Rulebook (the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement) to be finalised. COP26 wants to see an acceleration in collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society to achieve the climate goals.

The UK presidency also hopes to help achieve these goals by emphasising the need to phase out coal and use nature-based solutions.


Our CEO, Steve Andrews, discusses the radical action that needs to happen at COP26 in our blog.  

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