What is COP26?
COP stands for Conference of the Parties. 196 countries as well as the EU have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), with the purpose of tackling climate change. 2021 will be the 26th summit – hence the name COP26. Due to take place last November, it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first year ever, the UK will be hosting COP26, with the conference taking place in Glasgow.
What happened last time?
At COP21, held in Paris 2015, almost every country worldwide entered a legally binding commitment to ensure climate change is limited to 2°C (but ideally 1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels. This became known as The Paris Agreement and was a historic turning point for global climate action.
Such an ambitious target requires big changes from all, and so the execution of The Paris Agreement has been a key focus of subsequent COPs. The implementation guideline – commonly know as the Paris Rulebook – was the priority for COP24 in 2018. Whilst large parts of the rulebook were settled, the conference ended with some elements, such as rules for voluntary market mechanisms, postponed until next year’s COP.
Despite the optimistic outcome of COP21, and the progresses made since, the last conference was disappointing for many. COP25, held in Madrid, attempted to finally provide a concrete framework for the technicalities of the Paris Agreement. Unfortunately, delegates disagreed on key issues, resulting in the conference overrunning by two days. The little progress made puts a lot of pressure on COP26, requiring fundamental changes more urgently than ever before.
What have they got planned?
The main goals outlined for COP26 are to…
Reduce global emissions
Countries have been asked to come forward with their plans that will help cut emissions. The overall aim is to reach net zero by 2050, and big changes will have to happen to meet this target. Things which will help accomplish this include:
- Accelerating the phase-out of coal.
- Reducing deforestation.
- Making the switch to electric vehicles.
- Encouraging investment in renewables.
Protect communities and natural habitats
Unfortunately, those that are most effected by climate change are often the countries which have done the least to cause it. COP26 aims to have countries work together, providing plans and finances to avoid further loss of life, livelihoods and natural habitats. This can be done by:
- Protecting and restoring ecosystems.
- Improving early warning systems and flood defences.
- Building resilient infrastructure and agriculture.
Change requires funding, and developing countries need particular support. Developed countries previously promised $100 billion every year to support climate finance in developing countries. Even though countries such as Germany, Denmark and the US have increased their financial pledges, there is still a long way to go to meet this target, and more countries are being encouraged to up their pledges.
Climate change is a global problem, and the COP conferences are all about working together to provide global solutions. Big changes need to be made and it is important that these changes are laid out clearly and agreed upon. COP26 must:
- Finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational).
- Accelerate action – ambition needs to be turned into action so real changes can be implemented.
Why is it important?
There is a real sense of urgency leading up to COP26. It is seen as a successor to COP21, and the conference will address, what has and has not been achieved since The Paris Agreement. It will also be looking at what must be done to move forward.
Currently, global emissions are at an all-time high, worldwide floods, storms and fires are increasing, and the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity to ‘build back greener.’ There is a general agreement, both scientifically and globally, that this is humanities last chance to make the changes required to tackle climate change.
Here at GreenSeas Trust, we know that the creation and unsustainable disposal of plastics is a huge factor in climate change. You can read more about the links between plastic and climate change in our blog article; [blog link]. We hope that COP26’s aims of investing in renewables and phasing out fossil fuels will help combat the plastic pollution crisis we are facing.
Anything else I should know?
- The conference will be running from 1st – 12th November 2021
- This year will be the biggest summit yet, with over 30,000 delegates coming together.
- According to the UN, current Carbon emissions are on track to rise by 16% by 2030, instead of the target of falling by half.
- Sir David Attenborough will be the ‘COP26 People’s Advocate’, aiming to inspire everyone to take action on the road to COP26.
- Even though the conference is primarily for official negotiations, there is also an area called the ‘green zone’ where a range of events will be showcased for the public. These include art exhibitions, cultural events, workshops and talks that aim to bring the climate change message to a wider audience. Tickets to these events are free, and it is also streamed via the COP26 YouTube channel.
By: Rebecca Dodds