Whether you’re a climate fanatic or generally try to avoid the news, you will have undoubtedly heard the phrase COP26 being thrown around in the last few weeks. But what is COP26 and why is it so important?
The short answer is, COP26 is a worldwide climate conference being held from October 31st to November 12th in Glasgow. However, this doesn’t really tell us much, and as the news cycle builds, we know a lot of you have questions about this historic conference. To help you out, we’ve put together a Fussy Guide to COP26 - read on to find out everything you need to know…
What is COP26?
Let’s break this down with the most simple question first - what is COP26? COP stands for Conference of the Parties, the parties being members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC (catchy we know!)
The parties meet yearly and this is the 26th meeting since the inception of UNFCCC - hence the 26. Almost every country around the world is part of the UNFCCC, and this year 120 world leaders will be in attendance
What about the Paris Agreement
Whenever anyone discusses the worldwide response to Climate Change, the Paris Agreement is invariably mentioned. The Paris Agreement was a result of the 2015 COP, held in Paris. Whilst there, all nations committed to holding global temperature rises to ‘well below 2°c’ - the goal was therefore set at 1.5°c
In order to meet these goals, countries agreed to National Targets. However, it was immediately obvious that these targets were inadequate to hold the world to the Paris temperature target.
Countries were given five years to revise their National Targets in order to meet the temperature goal of not rising above 1.5°c. COP26 is important as this marks five years since the Paris Agreement (well six but we don’t count the COVID year!)
Is everyone revising their targets?
Short answer? No.
Unfortunately, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Australia have all refused to strengthen their targets. Of the countries that have submitted new targets, the UN reports that over 100 are inadequate in order to keep the world under a 1.5°c rise - this includes the US, EU and UK.
Why is 1.5°c so important?
Obviously, the ideal situation would be stopping the temperature rises where they are now, at around 1.1-1.2°c. However, as Co2 is cumulative, this is not feasible. Scientists have mapped out the consequences in a rise of 1.5°c and 2°c and found there would be a vast difference in the amount of damage done. 1.5°c is also seen as a realistic goal for the world - if all countries put in a great amount of effort.
1.5°c will still result in rising sea levels, the bleaching of coral reefs and increased flooding, hurricanes and other forms of extreme weather, but all of this would be far less extreme than the outcome of a 2°c rise.
So what needs to be done to reach these goals?
As mentioned, temperatures are currently around 1.1°c-1.2°c above the world temperature at pre-industrial levels. To stay within a rise of 1.5°c, global emissions need to come down by 7% a year for the next decade.
As Co2 is cumulative, temperatures then need to stay within this level, as it will take years for the amount of Co2 we have produced to be absorbed. To keep within this level, we must stop emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases almost completely by 2050.
What else will be discussed at COP26 - is it all about the 1.5°c?
One of the other main topics at COP26 will be climate finance. This is the money that is provided to poorer countries in order to help them cut their emissions and cope with increasingly extreme weather as a result of climate change.
Another main topic for conversation will be the phasing out of coal. This is an essential part of the goal to remain under a 1.5°c temperature rise. However, many countries rely on exporting coal as a major part of their economy and are reluctant to scale this back.
Nature-based solutions will also be discussed, such as restoring natural carbon sinks (anything that absorbs more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases – for example, plants, the ocean and soil) and growing more trees. However, an emphasis will be on the fact that planting more trees cannot solve everything - there is already too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Could COP26 make the difference?
A lot of people have high hopes for COP26, however, the UN, US and UK have already admitted that it is unlikely COP26 will achieve the necessary National Targets to ensure the world remains within the 1.5°c.
The focus is on ensuring that there are enough progress emission cuts for 2030 that the 1.5°c goal can be kept alive. Leaders will be perfectly aware that this year more than ever, the eyes of the world are on them, and that time really is starting to run out for lasting changes to be made.
How can I get involved?
If you’re based in Glasgow, you could host an activist in your home! The COP Homestay Network is a platform where those with a spare room or a sofa-bed within commuting distance fo Glasgow can offer a place to stay for climate campaigners during COP. It’s an amazing opportunity to have a direct link to COP whilst giving a genuine, warm Scottish welcome to visitors.
There are hundreds of events happening, both online and off, over the next few weeks. Check out this calendar from Climate Fringe to see what you can get involved in.
And finally, remember you can always push the government to focus more time, energy and money on climate projects. Write to your local MP and make your voice heard.