From 31 October 2021, more than 100 world leaders and thousands of diplomats and business leaders will meet in Glasgow, Scotland to try and set new reduction goals at the COP26 climate summit. As one of the most important events of our time, here are eight important things that you need to know about COP26.
The first COP26 was held in Berlin
The first COP (Conference of the Parties) meeting was held in Berlin in 1995. It’s an annual global summit on climate change, and this year will be the 26th edition of the event. Since the first COP meeting, climate change has gone from being a seldom-discussed issue to one of the biggest priorities of our time.
This year’s event is taking place from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow, Scotland. It is the UK’s first time playing host, in partnership with Italy. It was originally planned for November 2020, but COVID-19 forced a reschedule. COP26 is considered to be the most important climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement (COP21). All 197 member nations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are invited.
Unlike the Oscars, there’s no overall winner, except the planet. The talks are ideally a way for countries to discuss and decide on climate goals.
Climate change is more urgent than ever before
While the COP meetings take place every year, this year’s is seen as being absolutely crucial, since climate scientists warn that time is quickly running out to secure necessary cuts on greenhouse gas emissions to avoid devastating climate change impacts over the next decades.
2021 has not been kind to millions of people around the world, following a summer of climate chaos – floods, droughts, heatwaves and wildfires are proof that we need to act urgently on climate change to avoid even more devastation. COP26 will be important in this aspect.
In 2015, the Paris Agreement was signed by nearly all countries, who agreed to limit global warming to below 2°C, and preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels, by 2100. It was agreed at the time that the agreement would be reviewed every five years and that moment is COP26. Countries were encouraged to submit their updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – their plans to cut emissions – by December 2020, but the pandemic delayed this for many countries. While many member nations have updated their NDCs, many others have not.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that global temperatures will very likely rise above 1.5°C by 2040 at the latest, but could happen as early as 2030 to 2035. This report has put more pressure on countries to ensure that they make commitments to make deep cuts in emissions.
The UN warned in September 2021 that countries’ revised targets were too weak and would leave the world on pace to warm 2.7°C by 2100.
It’s the year of the net-zero climate pledge
One of the major goals of COP26 is to ramp up countries’ current emissions-cutting targets to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This means that there is an overall balance between greenhouse gas emissions produced and greenhouse gas emissions taken out of the atmosphere. Essentially, no more greenhouse gases can be added to the atmosphere in any given year than is taken out.
Some countries that have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by no later than 2060 include Saudi Arabia, China, New Zealand, South Africa, the US and the UK.
It’s an ambitious target, but countries need to set roadmaps to achieve net-zero emissions as soon as possible.
COP26 will be a carbon-neutral event
The event will meet the UNFCCC sustainability requirements for the delivery of COP26.
Some of the sustainability initiatives include encouraging delegates to travel sustainably, using electric and low-emission vehicles and solar energy, catering that uses locally-sourced and in-season food items to minimise transportation emissions and incorporating recycled and reusable materials into design and material choices.
For unavoidable emissions, the event organisers will offset these through the purchase of UNFCCC-recognised offsets such as Certified Emission Reductions (CERs).
COP26 has four themes
Firstly, countries should aim to make ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. To accomplish this, countries need to phase out coal, end deforestation, switch to electric vehicles and encourage investments in renewables.
Secondly, countries must adapt to protect communities and natural habitats by protecting and restoring ecosystems and building defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture.
Thirdly, developed nations must follow up on their promise to raise at least USD$100 billion in climate finance per year by 2020.
Lastly, countries must finalise the Paris Rulebook (which includes agreeing on a price system for carbon trading) and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.
Delegates are encouraged to travel sustainably
Delegates of the event are encouraged to travel by train – the main COP venue is served by its own train station – with a special “Climate Train” that will shuttle delegates from Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Brussels, via London, to Glasgow. This service could save up to 93% of carbon emissions per passenger over flying.
Everyone (and the Queen) will attend
Nearly 200 politicians and up to 30,000 climate activists, influencers and experts are expected to turn up at COP26. This includes natural historian Sir David Attenborough, who will address world leaders as a people’s advocate.
The Queen will also attend, along with former US President Barack Obama who will join current president Joe Biden. Youth climate activist Greta Thunberg will also attend, after famously refusing to go due to concerns that delegates from poorer countries would not be able to go because of a lack of access to COVID-19 vaccines. The UK has since offered to provide vaccines to all COP26 delegates who would be unable to get them otherwise.
We can also expect to see protests taking place, with some estimates suggesting that there will be up to 300,000 climate protesters!
Some Countries Will Be Looked at More Closely Than Others
As mentioned, some countries have already submitted their updated NDCs, but China is among those who haven’t. The world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has committed to peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, but this grand plan has not yet been matched with a short-term action plan.
Major fossil fuel producers, such as Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia are unwilling to strengthen their commitments, and India – the second-largest consumer, producer and importer of coal globally – has also not yet committed to strengthened commitments. However, they are expected to announce a goal of some sort.
Russia has said that it is now ready for dialogue to seek ways to tackle climate change and that it would work to be carbon neutral “no later than 2060.”
The US has recently re-entered the Paris Agreement after the previous administration left, and it has a lot of work to do. However, its Congress has yet to enact any climate legislation, a big part of Joe Biden’s campaign promises.
Other developing nations, like Indonesia, Malaysia, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, will all be closely watched. Brazilian president Javier Bolsonaro has famously said that the Amazon Rainforest will continue to be cleared if it means it will help the country develop economically.
We hope that this guide to COP26 has helped you to learn a bit more about this vitally important climate summit! World leaders need to put aside their difference and work together to find a common ground to tackle climate change, which has already changed the world as we know it, but threatens to make it unlivable in the decades to come.
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See also: The Truth About… Carbon Offsets