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What is…COP26?

COP = Conference Of Parties (197 members of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change)
26 = the 26th meeting...ooh catchy!

COP is an annual event which, this year, will be held in Glasgow from 31st October to 12th November - but what will they actually discuss? The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has identified four main goals for COP26:

  1. Secure global net zero by 2050 and keep the 1.5oC temperature raise within reach
  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  3. Mobilise finance
  4. Work together to deliver

Measures such as phasing out the use of coal and the reduction of deforestation will help to reduce our carbonoutput and allow us to hit the target of restricting warming to 1.5oC. This target was set at COP21 in Paris which you might recognise better as the Paris Agreement. Under the terms of this agreement, nations agreed to worktogether to deliver a series of measures including the adoption of renewable energy, the restoration of biodiverse habitats and reducing carbon-heavy industry and transport. The second aim is the recognition that human centres of population and their surrounding environments will continue to feel the effects of climate change and must be supported to protect against and endeavour to reverse these damages. The third and fourth goals are potentially the most problematic - the money needed to achieve these goals and the need fortrue global co-operation to make any of it possible.

With nearly 200 countries required to sign-off on every decision and a total of 2,217 organisations attending, COP is a colossal yet delicate machine. Although unity can be plain over certain issues, there is potential for talks to be plagued by bureaucracy or undermined by changing domestic political circumstances – for example, when President Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris Agreement in 2017.

As with any big group, disagreements can soak up valuable time, the best example of this is the dispute overcarbon markets. Basically, countries which have reached their emissions targets are able to purchase licences from countries which are ‘under-polluting’ to allow them to emit additional carbon. However, the carbon market concept is a polarising one and one which ultimately derailed COP25. Whether or not the same will happen at COP26 remains to be seen.

How much is coronavirus likely to dominate?

‘The pandemic has highlighted that the old normal was deeply fragile and dangerous…should the world fail to act now, the harm caused by climate change and biodiversity loss will be much greater and longer-lasting than the damage inflicted by COVID-19’ UN’s Independent Expert Group on Climate Finance December 2020 report. With over 500 wildfires across Southern Europe and the USA, flooding across Northern Europe, highest ever temperatures recorded all across the world, the Greenland ice sheet melting at its fastest rate for 12,000 years all highlighting this as a critical moment, it’s becoming more difficult for any state to ignore.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! There is positivity. The USA re-joining the Paris Agreement, the global growth in renewable energy production, an increase in ethical investment and measures to protect more of the world's surface are all positive signs that intention is gradually becoming action.

Will COP26 be successful in its aims? Who can say but the clock is ticking and if we don’t come together and agree a course of action soon, it will be too late.

FOLLOW UP TO COP26: Now that it's all done and dusted - what was achieved?