COP26: Everything You Need To Know By Ellen Parry

Between October 31 and November 12, the UK is hosting the biggest international summit it has ever held, an event that is crucial if climate change is to be brought under control.

The event, COP26, will be spread over two main sites in Glasgow:

1) The Blue Zone (SEC Glasgow) – a space managed by the United Nations that hosts the negotiations, attended by delegates from 197 parties and observers from organisations such as NGOs.

2) The Green Zone (Glasgow Science Centre) – this is open to the public and aims to promote learning and participation around climate change through workshops and exhibitions led by youth groups, civil society, and businesses.

COP stands for ‘conference of the parties’ and is the decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP meets every year - except for in 2020 - so the 26th instalment was postponed to 2021.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in 2015 at COP21, is the first truly global commitment to fighting the climate crisis. 196 countries and the EU signed an agreement that aims to keep global warming to well below 2°C, and to make every effort to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C. Unlike previous attempts at developing such an agreement, Paris allowed individual countries to set their own targets for reducing emissions and adopt individual strategies to get there. These targets – Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC and aim to enhance the level of ambition over time, with the ultimate goal of keeping warming below 2°C.

So, if the Paris Agreement was such a significant step for the global governance of climate change, why do we still need a COP?

Well, COP26 represents the first opportunity for countries to submit their updated NDCs. A new agreement won’t be negotiated in Glasgow, but we should expect to see some heavy commitments on climate action with more ambitious NDCs.

What difference does 0.5°C make?

A 1.5°C rise would still result in rising sea levels, increased heatwaves and droughts, more flooding, and extreme weather events, but the impact would be catastrophic if warming reaches 2°C. As humans, 1°C can be the difference between having a normal body temperature and a fever – so for our planet and the ecosystems within it, any further rises in temperature could have drastic effects.

The 1.5°C target is a key feature of the Paris Agreement thanks to the campaigning of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with their unique vulnerability and exposure to the impacts of anthropogenic climate change. However, it’s estimated that humans have already caused 1.1°C of warming since pre-industrial levels (1850-1900). According to a report published by the IPCC in August 2021, under all potential emissions scenarios, both the 1.5°C and 2°C targets will be broken this century, unless huge cuts in carbon take place.

What can we expect to feature at COP26?

Essentially, we should expect a significant level of focus to be on limiting warming to 1.5°C. In addition to the formal completion of the Paris Agreement, we can expect demonstrable momentum during the negotiations in terms of limiting and ending the use of fossil fuels, increasing electric car production, climate finance for developing countries, and tree planting commitments. Limiting emissions is nevertheless not the only aspect of intergovernmental climate negotiations. We should also expect adaptation to feature heavily on the agenda.

‘Loss and damage’ could also gain itself a seat at the negotiations table. This refers to the fact that some impacts of climate change are inevitable and have already been locked into the Earth’s system – as mitigation and adaptation won’t be a solution, these losses and damages are unavoidable. It calls for nations who have certain historical responsibilities in terms of emissions to pay for the losses and damages associated with climate change. ‘Loss and damage’ was discussed at the Paris meeting, and a mechanism to quantify it is recognised in the Paris Agreement. However, no consensus was reached so this is set to return in Glasgow.

Climate finance should remain a pivotal point of the negotiations. The ultimate goal is the mobilisation of $100 billion every year in climate finance to support developing countries in adapting to climate change and reducing their emissions. We should also keep an eye out for the private sector, in terms of businesses and investors, stepping up to incorporate adaptation and climate resilience into the way they do business.

Finally, we should expect biodiversity loss to feature heavily, and for biodiversity to be given a significant seat at the table. Nature-based solutions for adapting to climate change will also likely be pushed for by developing and vulnerable countries, rather than hard engineering solutions and carbon capture and storage.

Who is attending COP26?

Up to 25,000 people are expected to attend the summit in Glasgow, including world leaders, negotiators, journalists, and observers from organisations such as environmental NGOs.

Alok Sharma, a British politician and cabinet member, will host COP26 as the President. John Kerry, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate is expected to play a pivotal role in the discussions, as is President Joe Biden to mark the US’s return to the Paris Agreement. The Australian PM, Scott Morrison, will be attending after previously failing to confirm his attendance. China’s President Xi Jinping is unlikely to attend, but another high-profile politician or official from China is expected to represent the country. Some of the British Royal Family will be attending. Before COP26, Prince William launched the ‘Earthshot Prize’, designed to incentivise and reward environmental innovation. The Queen, however, will not be attending. Other high-profile guests are also anticipated to attend, including Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg.

The international summits are one of the only chances to pursue more rigorous climate action. The decisions made by countries around the world coming to COP26 will impact us all. Without ambitious action, the damage to our planet will be irreversible. The world needs both the commitment to real change and the solutions to create a sustainable future for us all.

For more information on COP26, head to: https://ukcop26.org/ The Green Zone is open to the public. You can access some events virtually by subscribing to the COP26 YouTube channel.


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