COP26: What is it? What are the aims and goals?

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Six years on from the Paris Agreement, the 26th edition of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) is being held in Glasgow. Leaders from around the world are meeting to agree what action needs to be taken on a global scale to tackle climate change, make the switch to green energy, and ensure commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are met. Here is everything you need to know about the COP26 Glasgow Climate Summit.

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What is COP26 and what does it stand for?

cop26 logo

The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the Climate Summit, is an annual event that brings together governments from around the world to discuss and review how the climate is managed. This year is the 26th meeting, hence why it is called “COP26”.

One of the most significant previous COP summits took place in 2015 (COP21) in Paris. At that summit, national leaders agreed to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in what is known as the Paris Agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement?Through this agreement, the signatory countries undertook to present national plans detailing the scope of the measures against global warming that each country plans to adopt.

Where is COP26 being held?

The COP26 summit is being held in Glasgow, Scotland, at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC).

The first meeting of the COP was held in 1995 in Berlin, Germany. Since then, governments around the world have come together almost every year to develop a global response to the climate emergency. The host of the annual event normally rests with whichever nation is the COP President at that time. In 2021, the UK holds the COP presidency.

The next COP summit, COP27, will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022.

When is COP26 and how long will it last?

COP26 datesCOP26 offically runs from October 31st, 2021 until November 12th, 2021.

The conference officially opened on Sunday, October 31st, 2021, with more than 120 world leaders meeting in Scotland. After the first few days, the politicians and world leaders departed, leaving the complex negotiations in the hands of their representatives, mainly environment ministers or other senior officials.

Negotiations are scheduled to end at 6 p.m. on Friday, November 12th, 2021. However, the COP has often been postponed in the past, which could happen this year as well.

COP26 was meant to take place in November 2020 but was postponed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What are the key themes at COP26?

Every year, to fight global warming, world leaders address certain issues. This year, the main topics on the table at COP26 are:

  • The expansion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets;
  • Financing the energy transition of the poorest countries;
  • The reduction of methane emissions;
  • The organisation of the carbon market.

What are the goals of COP26?

To actively fight against global warming, COP26 is structured around the following four main objectives:

  1. Reach carbon neutrality by 2050 and keep global warming below +1.5 °C;
  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats, particularly those most threatened by climate change;
  3. Mobilise climate finance (at least US $100 billion a year) to achieve the first two goals;
  4. Working together to achieve carbon neutrality: the challenges of the climate crisis can only be overcome if everyone plays their part.

Why is it important to keep global warming below +1.5 °C? As part of the Paris Agreement, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was asked to examine the consequences of a 1.5 °C increase in temperature for the planet. It concluded that such an increase would cause extreme weather conditions (forest fires, floods, etc.), but that these phenomena would be much less than those associated with an increase of 2 °C.

How will the objectives of COP26 be achieved?

To achieve the objectives of COP26, there are several possible solutions:

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Who is attending COP26 in Glasgow?

Over the 12-day summit, some 30,000 participants are expected to attend. These are primarily world leaders and other leading politicians such as climate ministers, observers, members of the press and the media, and representatives of NGOs.

Among the leaders are Boris Johnson (United Kingdom - who is also the president of COP26), Joe Biden (United States), Emmanuel Macron (France), Mario Draghi (Italy), Naftali Bennett (Israel), Justin Trudeau (Canada)...Other famous names, such as climate activists and cultural leaders, will also attend the climate change conference.

Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change. It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now.

Boris JohnsonOpening speech at COP26 in Glasgow.

Which countries are in COP26?As well as those already mentioned, many other prominent world leaders have attended COP26. These include politicians from Australia, Turkey, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, Nigeria, Sweden, Switzerland and South Korea.

Among those absent are Xi Jinping (China), Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Queen Elizabeth II, who was ordered to take a period of rest by her medical team.

How to participate in COP26?

As a member of the public, there are several ways to participate in COP26:

  • Participating as a representative of an observer organisation: some NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have observer status to attend COP26.
  • Through volunteering: a team of volunteers from the host city (Glasgow) is being recruited to contribute to the success of the event. It will be a unique opportunity for people passionate about climate change to represent their country to the world.
  • Buying a ticket: individuals can register for free tickets to the public area through an online platform launched on the eve of the event.

What has happened so far at COP26 in 2021?

While the COP26 summit still has a few days to go before it closes, there have already been some big headline announcements as to how the world can move towards a more sustainable future and take a more rigorous approach to tackling climate change. These include:

sustainable future
  • Pledge to end deforestation by 2030: 110 nations signed a deal to end destruction of our forests by 2030 and repair damaged land. Among those who signed up were Brazil, home to the Amazon rainforest, and Indonesia, where rainforests have been destroyed in favour of palm tree plantations. Other signatures on the pledge included the UK, US, Australia, China and Canada;
  • Promise to cut methane emissions: US President Joe Biden and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced more than 100 countries have signed up to the Great Methane Pledge, a promise to cut methane emissions by 30% from today’s levels by 2030. Methane is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases and is largely linked with the livestock and agricultural sectors;
  • Jeff Bezos to contribute US $2 billion towards the environment: Some of the world’s wealthiest people - Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson in particular - have been criticised in recent months for focussing on the space tourism race rather than using their wealth to improve the planet we live on. Bezos, founder of Amazon, pledged US $2 billion which will go towards restoring nature and improving food systems around the world;
  • India announces 2070 net zero target: India is home to 17% of the world’s population and is the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, meaning it has a key role to play when it comes to protecting the global environment. While the 2070 net zero pledge fails to meet the targets set out in the Paris Agreement, India has never committed to greenhouse gas reductions before - so this is a big step;
  • London to become net zero financial centre: UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans to ensure financial companies and big businesses in the capital will be carbon neutral. By 2023, companies will need to publish plans on what action they are taking to reduce emissions;
  • Moving away from coal power: More than 40 nations have pledged to move away from coal power to more sustainable forms of energy. Some of the world’s most coal-reliant nations such as Canada, Ukraine, Indonesia, and Vietnam, are just some of the nations to have signed up;
  • Financial aid for emerging nations: The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP), a group of philanthropic organisations, has collectively pledged to provide US $10.5 billion to help emerging countries around the world with the switch to cleaner energy.