What is COP26?

Published by Aubrey Holt on

It’s been hard to miss the prominence of COP26 over the last few days, and with the conference officially running until November 12th, its media dominance is likely to persist for a little longer. But what is COP26 and why is it so important for tackling climate change?

Being held at the SEC Centre in the Scottish city of Glasgow, a city ironically known for its industrial past, the summit will see around 200 world leaders negotiate and hopefully agree on taking the next steps to tackle climate change.

Standing for Conference of the Parties, COP meetings are annual gatherings of officials from all 196 parties who have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change established in 1994. They use these conferences to build new treaties and targets in dealing with the climate crisis. Although COP summits are held each year, major summits take place every five years (although COP26 was delayed a year due to Covid-19), the last being in 2015 with the creation of the Paris Agreement forming a new chapter in global climate governance.

What are the Aims of COP26? 

Outlined in the pre-conference “COP26 explained” publication, there are four key goals this COP aims to achieve.

  1. Securing global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  3. Mobilise finance
  4. Work together to deliver

What Has Happened So Far: 

The success of COP26 has so far been mixed. It was first hit by the absence of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping, with China being the world’s largest polluter and an essential player in the summit’s success. Although India agreed on a date to achieve net zero emissions, this was set at 2070, 20 years after the agreed net zero deadlines outlined in the Paris Agreement.

However, it isn’t only doom and gloom, with 128 countries so far agreeing to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, providing funds of $12 billion (US) to achieve it. Whilst more than 100 countries have also pledged to reduce global methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels. Although some of the world’s largest polluters, including Russia, China, and India, have so far failed to sign the pledge.

What can we expect the outcome to look like? 

Although it is difficult to predict the outcome of any COP meeting, this was emphasised with COP15 held in 2009, with the meeting starting well, before talks collapsed in the final days, resulting in the creation of the non-binding Copenhagen Accord.

It is expected that COP26 will build on the ‘ratchet system’ developed by the Paris Agreement, with states submitting improved commitments outlined in their nationally determined contribution (NDCs) that must be more ambitious than the one submitted in the previous five years. However, several major polluters, including China and India, have failed to so far submit updated targets, with this COP aiming to ensure these polluters improve their commitments.

If the conference reaches its aims, this is likely how they will happen:

  • More ambitious targets: The hope is that countries will update their NDCs and provide more ambitious targets across a host of different climate-related areas, including targets to achieve net zero by 2050. A point that has received progress with the creation of a multi-state target to reduce methane emissions.
  • Establish new commitments in protecting and restoring ecosystems: This will see countries agree on improved action to create new defences, warning systems, resilient infrastructure, and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods, and lives. This has already achieved some success with the creation of a $12 billion fund and target to reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.
  • Ensure developed countries finance mitigation and adaptation in developing countries: This will ensure developed countries deliver on their $100bn in climate finance per year commitment to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. An additional goal would be to also ensure financial institutions mobilise trillions in public and private climate finance. 
  • Strengthen the effectiveness of global climate cooperation: Ensuring that the principles created by the Paris agreement are strengthened in tackling the climate crisis, including the success of the ratchet mechanism.


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