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COP26 – here’s what you need to know

World leaders, famous faces and climate activists are all descending on Glasgow as we speak – here’s why.

Written by Becky Hardy
Published 30.10.2021

WHAT IS COP26?

‘COP’ stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. ‘Parties’ refers to the countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty agreed in 1994.

The 2021 conference – hosted by the UK in Glasgow – will be the 26th meeting of the Parties, which is why it’s called COP26. The conference will run from 31st October until 12th November.

In laymen’s terms, COP26 is one of the largest international meetings in the world, bringing together officials from every country for one common purpose: to get climate change under control.

But COP26 isn’t just another international summit. Most experts believe COP26 has a particular urgency.

WHAT HAPPENS AT A COP?

COPs generally take place across two different zones: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone.

The Blue Zone is for people registered with the UN body, who have been tasked with coordinating the global response to the threat of climate change. In the Blue Zone, you might be part of a national delegation, work for the United Nations, or be a member of the media.

In the Blue Zone, delegates from countries meet for both formal negotiations and informal consultations. They may also take part in meetings with other delegations to clarify their position and interests, with the aim of reaching an agreement or overcoming a negotiating deadlock. The UNFCCC will also host a range of events, including technical briefings, to support the negotiations process.

The Green Zone is for the general public. Here, there will be a wide range of events, including workshops, art exhibitions and installations, as well as presentations, demonstrations of technology and musical performances for everyone to enjoy.

WHO WILL BE THERE?

More than 190 world leaders were expected to arrive in Glasgow for COP26, along with tens of thousands of negotiators, government representatives, businesses and citizens for the 12 days of talks. But a few notable drop-outs have been hitting headlines recently. Here’s who will be there:

 World leaders

From the estimated 190, it’s looking more likely there’ll be around 100 world leaders in Glasgow now, among whom are: our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson; Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall; President Joe Biden; Nicola Sturgeon; French president, Emmanuel Macron; Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau;  Argentinian President, Alberto Fernandez; and Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has now confirmed he will attend the conference, after drawing criticism last month for suggesting he might skip the meeting, (Australis are a large producer of coal and gas and are ranked poorly for their climate policies).

Famous faces

Y’all know who it is… Sir David Attenborough will, of course, be in attendance. Everyone’s favourite naturalist has been named as the COP26 People’s Advocate, meaning he will address world leaders and other attendees during the summit.

Another famous attendee this year will be young upstart Greta Thunberg who, despite levelling some criticism at COP26, will be joining the world leaders in Glasgow.

Who won’t be there

Fairly unsurprisingly, the countries that have expressed doubts as to whether their leaders will be coming to the summit are also some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters.

The Kremlin has confirmed that Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be travelling to Glasgow due to ‘the pandemic situation’. Boris Johnson has also received word that Chinese President Xi Jinping won’t be there either. And President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and President Narendra Modi of India are yet to confirm their attendance, after missing the last summit. At the last COP meeting in 2019, the heads of the world’s top five emitters – China, India, Japan, US and Russia – all failed to attend.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will also not be attending COP26, as confirmed by Buckingham Palace on Tuesday, following medical advice to rest. And it was also announced this week that Pope Francis will also forego the conference due to having recently undergone colon surgery, although Cardinal Parolin will attend in his stead.

WHY NOW?

Most experts believe COP26 has a particular urgency – and it’s little wonder why.

Around the world, storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying. Air pollution sadly affects the health of tens of millions of people and unpredictable weather causes untold damage to homes and livelihoods, too. Climate change is the greatest risk facing us all.

But while the impacts of climate change are devastating, advances in tackling it are leading to cleaner air, creating good jobs, restoring nature and, at the same time, unleashing economic growth.

Despite the opportunities, we’re not acting fast enough. To avert this crisis, countries need to join forces urgently.

WHAT DOES ‘NET ZERO’ MEAN?

To keep the temperature of our planet under control – by limiting its increase to 1.5°C – science dictates that by the second half of the century, we should be producing less carbon than we take out of the atmosphere. This is what reaching ‘net zero’ means.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS?

Climate change is raging forward and, ultimately, is threatening life on earth. Around the world we are seeing progress, but much, much more still needs to be done.

COP26 have outlined the following four goals that they hope will result from the conference:

Secure global ‘Net Zero’ by mid-century and keep 1.5°C within reach

Countries are being asked to come prepared with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with the overall goal of reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

To do so, every country will need to accelerate on phasing out coal, encouraging investment in renewables, curtail deforestation and switching to electric vehicles.

Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The climate is already changing and it will continue to change, even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects.

At COP26, key figures need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to protect and restore ecosystems, build defences, put warning systems in place and make infrastructure and agriculture more resilient to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and lives.

Mobilise finance

To realise these first two goals, developed countries must deliver on their promise to raise at least $100 billion in climate finance per year.

International financial institutions must play their part and work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.

Work together to deliver

We can only rise to the challenges of climate change by working together. At COP26, delegates must finalise the Paris Rulebook (the rules needed to implement the Paris Agreement). And everyone must turn their ambitions into action by accelerating collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society to deliver on climate goals faster.

WHAT IS THE PARIS AGREEMENT?

The Paris Agreement was agreed at COP21, in 2015. For the first time ever, a COP saw almost every country around the world enter into a legally-binding commitment to reduce emissions.

It was ‘top down’ in that every country – no matter how big or small – signed up to cutting carbon emissions to limit global warming to well below 2°C and, ideally, to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels; and it was ‘bottom up’ in that it left room for each individual country to decide how they would get there. These were called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The Paris Agreement also set out ambitious goals on adaptation and on finance, recognising that many people around the world are already experiencing the impacts of a changing climate, and that support – financial, technical and capacity building – would be needed.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

It’s a good question. And one that can only really be answered after COP26, when the outcomes of the conference are clear. Let’s hope the powers that be can do what they have set out to do at COP26 – unite the world to tackle climate change.

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