Everything you need to know about the most important global climate change summit ever.

COP26 is a major global climate change conference being held this year in the UK. It will be the biggest summit the UK has ever hosted, and has been called the most important event ever for the future of the planet.

What does ‘COP26’ mean?

COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. It is a summit of all the countries which are part of the UN’s climate change treaty: the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or ‘UNFCCC’. There are 197 members of this process and they are known as ‘parties’ to the treaty.

The number 26 is included because this will be the 26th Conference. The last conference, COP25, was held in Madrid, Spain, in 2019, with activist Greta Thunberg making an impactful speech at the event.

When and where will COP26 take place?

The conference is due to be held in the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow from 1st-12th November 2021. It should have taken place in November 2020, but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. In June, we should hear if the conference will take place on the ground or happen virtually due to COVID-19 Some young activists around the world still got together online during the original dates, in an event called Mock COP – read more about their activity here.

What will happen at COP26?

Presidents and prime ministers from around the world will report on how their countries have progressed on cutting carbon emissions since the Paris Agreement was first negotiated in 2015. The Paris Agreement committed countries to keeping the global temperature rise below 2°C – and ideally below 1.5°C – in order to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. They will also discuss plans for future efforts, as governments are obliged to set out more ambitious goals for ending their contribution to climate change and to provide funding for poorer countries that are more vulnerable to the impacts of global warming, such as drought and sea level rise.

Every country has to propose new cuts to carbon pollution called Nationally Determined Contribution. The UK has already cut greenhouse gas emissions by 44% since 1990 and has pledged to go to net zero by 2050. Some countries are yet to agree to this, which will be a focus for COP26.

As well as the official talks, it’s hoped that COVID-19 restrictions will permit a ‘Green Zone’ that will include exhibitions, talks and meetings, accessible by members of the public. There will also be a civil society hub designated for activists.

Why is COP26 important?

COP26 will be an absolutely critical event in the fight against the climate crisis. Reports consistently show that not enough is being done to mitigate climate change, so getting world leaders together in one place to address the issue has the potential to drive real and meaningful action.

This year’s COP will be especially important because it will be the first since the coronavirus pandemic began. Governments are now planning how to rebuild from the pandemic and it is vital that these plans are based around a transition to more sustainable ways of doing things. 

What will make COP26 a success?

The event will be considered a success if countries can agree on – and commit to – bold targets for tackling climate change. COP21, which took place in 2015, is widely accepted as being the most successful COP to date, as it saw the negotiation of the important Paris Agreement.

Other COPs have not been so successful. At COP15 in 2009, expectations were high that a new and binding global deal would be signed, but world leaders arrived during the second week to find that nothing useful had yet been agreed. The event culminated in then-US President Barack Obama and other leaders huddled around Russia’s President Medvedev as he typed out the weak Copenhagen Accord on his laptop!

What do world leaders think of COP26?

Every country has its own attitude towards the talks – some are more positive than others! Joe Biden’s second act as US President was to rejoin the Paris Agreement and many other world leaders are very supportive of the event. However, some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil. Australia and Russia are renowned for hampering talks, as the sale of fossil fuels remains a key part of their economic systems.

Every word in every bit of official text that comes out of the talks has to be agreed by every country before signing. These negotiations can be extremely drawn out as some countries seek to water down commitments so COP26 will require fantastic leadership. The President of COP26 is Reading MP Alok Sharma, given the position after Boris Johnson fired his experienced former climate President Claire Perry.

The bottom line

COP26 will be a hugely significant event in the fight against climate change. If world leaders are able to agree on bold, ambitious targets, we stand a chance of limiting global warming to 2°C. Hopefully the event can take place in Glasgow and an agreement is reached to  mitigate an incredibly serious crisis that will affect everyone forever.

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