COP26: Everything you need to know

Glasgow is set to host the world’s most important climate change summit later next month. The conference, taking place from 31st October to 12th November, will see world leaders come together to discuss how we can keep temperature rises within the 1.5 °C target. COP26 President Alok Sharma has said that this is the last chance to “pick the planet”.

What is COP26?

COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties, and this year will be the 26th. The summit brings together climate experts, campaigners, and the 197 Parties who form the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). Traditionally held every year, COP26 was meant to take place in 2020 but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why is COP26 important?

A harrowing report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month gave us an idea of our current climate situation and what we may expect if we continue this trajectory. The report stated, it is “unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land” indicating that the climate crisis is a direct result of anthropogenic emissions.

Although the consequences of these soaring emissions have been fiercely debated within the last 50 years by scientists and politicians alike, the recent IPCC report gives us some firm and undeniable findings. Despite increasing awareness of climate change, and a dip in emissions due to national lockdowns, the report states that “global surface temperatures will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered”. It goes on to say that, unless we drastically reduce our CO2 emissions, global warming will exceed the 1.5 °C and even the 2 °C target. These temperature rises will be accompanied by extreme flooding, intense heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires, some of which we have started to see in more recent years.

COP26 presents a rare opportunity for world leaders to get together and make plans for real climate action. Countries will be able to discuss the roadmap to global net-zero emissions by 2050, and state how their country has taken action to meet previous pledges. Developed countries will also be asked how they plan to make good on promises to raise $100 billion a year for countries most vulnerable to climate change.

In short, if we are to have any success in mitigating the effects of climate change and reducing global emissions, the plans to do this will likely arise from COP26 – so it’s a big deal.

What have previous conferences achieved?

The previous conference held in 2015, COP25, was the longest on record with more than two weeks of tense negotiations. Despite such talks, there was an air of frustration after the conference ended, resulting in young people taking to the streets of Madrid in protest and an impassioned speech by climate activist Greta Thunberg. The same sense of disappointment was felt after COP24, with world leaders being called upon to take more ambitious targets. That said, COP21, which took place in December 2015 in Paris, saw the construction of the legally binding Paris Agreement in which world leaders set the goal to keep warming well within 2 °C, preferably 1.5 °C, above pre-industrial levels. It is hoped that COP26 will achieve a similar level of progress as seen at COP21.

What happens at the conference?

As previous conferences have done, the event will be open to both officials and the public. The event takes place over two ‘zones’, the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. The Blue Zone is open mainly to people registered with the UN body who are responsible for coordinating the global response to climate change. However, you’ll also find people from related organisations, media representatives.

The Green Zone is open to the public. Here you’ll find workshops, art exhibitions, presentations, and musical performances, as well as many other things.

What can we hope to achieve from COP26?

Official government documents suggest that the conference will cover four key topics. The first being the roadmap to achieving global net-zero emissions by 2050, which we have touched upon above. This is a follow up to the pledges made in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Countries are expected to update their targets and take a step closer to achieving global net-zero.

The second is policies on adaptation to protect communities and natural habitats which are particularly vulnerable to climate change. The conference will call upon the international community to "unite and protect" those who are most at risk of the effects of the changing climate. Through protecting and restoring natural habitats the impacts of climate change can be softened as these habitats provide natural storm and flood defences, revitalise ecosystems, and support the livelihoods of millions of people worldwide.

Thirdly, as we have mentioned previously, developed countries have promised to provide $100 billion every year to support countries most at risk from climate change. Talks will discuss how these nations will mobilise finance and stick to their pledges.

Lastly, the conference will reinforce the importance of global collaboration when it comes to tackling the climate crisis. The nature of the crisis is a global one and therefore requires a global 'solution'. Additionally, the rules of the Paris Agreement will be finalised in what is called the Paris Rulebook.

How can you get involved?

Unfortunately, the application process to volunteer at COP26 has now closed. But don’t worry, you can still get involved. Make sure you follow @COP26 on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest news and discussions. The more people who are aware of COP26, the better. So, make sure you share anything you find important from the conference using the hashtag #OurOnlyFuture. Although talks involve world leaders and other high profile people, change ultimately needs to take place throughout every aspect of our society, starting with you.

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