What is COP26: why is the Glasgow event important?

What is COP26? The lowdown

 COP26 stands for The 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties.

The goal is to bring global countries together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement (COP21, when 195 countries and the European Union signed on to keep global warming to well below 2°C and ideally 1.5°C) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Yep, there have been 25 Climate Change Conferences already. Can you imagine the pace of change if these conferences weren’t here to “accelerate action”?

Essentially, the goal is for all countries to reduce their carbon emissions drastically, because – we accepted 25 years ago, give or take – that greenhouse gases (CO2, carbon dioxide) are trapping heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. This is causing the world to warm up. And not, in that lovely, extended summer type-of-way. In a rising sea-levels and flooding in some parts of the world and extended droughts that lead to wild fires in others, type-of-way. This unpredictability threatens human life and wildlife directly. Experts pretty much unanimously predict that diseases will spread more quickly, fresh water will become more scarce and climate wars are on the cards.

Undoubtedly, those that are, and will be, hardest hit by climate change are those in the “Global South”, where some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people live. But, don’t let that fool you into thinking the UK and rich nations are working to combat the climate crisis for altruistic reasons – nature doesn’t follow the laws and dividing lines of countries drawn up by man. We’re all in this together.

The main culprit of this is burning fossil fuels.

Possible sponsors of COP26 were… fossil fuel companies. 


Wait… conference of the parties?

“If you want to change the world, throw a better party,” is an oft-quoted slogan. But, this ain’t that type of party.

The parties are the 197 nations and territories that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This treaty was agreed in 1994. 

Yep, 28 years ago.

Still, COP26 will be the largest gathering of world leaders ever hosted by the UK government, with around 30,000 delegates in attendance. Plus, hundreds of thousands of campaigners from around the world are expected to travel to COP for side events. So, there are likely to be some pretty good actual parties, too.

When is COP26?

COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow, between 1 – 12 November 2021, COVID-19 pandemic permitting.

The climate summit was meant to be held last year, with around 200 world leaders in attendance, but y’know – COVID.

The last climate change conference, COP25 (see how this works?), was held in Madrid, Spain, in November 2019.

It’s where Greta Thunberg gave her powerful speech that held the world leaders to account. The one that led to President Trump suggesting the young teenager needs to “work on her Anger Management problem”.

She said:

“Since the Paris Agreement global banks have invested 1.9 trillion US dollars in fossil fuels. One hundred companies are responsible for 71 percent of global emissions.

“The G20 countries account for almost 80 percent of total emissions. The richest 10 percent of the world’s population produce half of our CO2 emissions, while the poorest 50 percent account for just one-tenth. We indeed have some work to do but some more than others.

“…The politics needed does not exist today despite what you might hear from world leaders. And I still believe that the biggest danger is not inaction. The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR.”

Greta’s speech was possibly one of the major successes of the conference. Countries couldn’t agree on issues such as offsetting carbon and financial aid for developing nations, so the attempts at tackling climate crises were widely deemed a failure.

Is it important? Why will this one be any different?

Well, at COP25 each country agreed to create their plans to cut carbon emissions by COP26.

This is one reason why COP26 is being described as the most significant climate event since COP21 in 2015, which lead to the Paris Agreement. 

Another is that these plans must be more ambitious than those made in Paris. For example, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed the UK to a goal of reaching “Net Zero” by 2050. This will include shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Being the first COP since the pandemic is also significant. All countries need to rebuild and hopefully “build back better” is more than just a catchy slogan.

Finally, there’s the small matter of the impending 2030 deadline, which adds an urgency that was understandably lacking at COP1.

As this article from the Union of Concerned Scientists brilliantly explains, 2030 is a key milestone. Globally, we have to have significantly reduced our carbon emissions by then to be in with a chance of not reaching the “tipping point” – the point of irreversible damage.

Oh, one more thing of note…

The COP26 president is Conservative MP Alok Sharma. And initially the UK’s leadership team was all male.

“All Male!?” you cry. We did, too.

Campaign group She Changes Climate was set up to try to fight for fair and equal representation of women on the leadership team for COP26. In July, when this article was first published, we were up to 3 women out of 12 positions. That’s 25%, or an utter disgrace, however you prefer to frame that.

By the end of October, as the conference starts, only 2 in 12 – or 16% of COP26 UK Leadership team – are women.

Just imagine what more could be achieved if the efforts of this committed group could be focused on the climate crisis rather than an equality issue they should never have to campaign on in the first place…

Main image: John Englart. The Greta Thunberg effect, Talk, Panel discussion at COP25 – Dec 11. Flickr.

About the author

Lizzie Rivera

Lizzie Rivera

Lizzie Rivera is the founder and chief purpose officer at Live Frankly. She has been writing for mainstream publications for 10 years, specialising in sustainability and ethics since 2014.


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