Understanding COP26 & Climate Jargon

Interested in COP26 but not sure what all of the jargon means? Don’t worry! We’ve put together this handy glossary that explains everything from what COP26 is, from what the Paris Agreement is to some of those abbreviations you might have seen online or in news reports. Take a look below and if we’ve missed something, let us know by sending a DM on social media or emailing contents@young.scot

Climate change

Climate change refers to global changes in the Earth’s average temperature over time and the consequences of the changes in the temperature.

The Earth’s average temperature moves up and down naturally, but it has been moving up a lot faster than it has before. Since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change.

This increase in temperature has an impact on the planet’s environment such as the sea-level rising and extreme weather (like flooding or droughts).


COP26 stands for the 26th Conference of Parties.  In full it is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties and it will take place in Glasgow from 31st October - 12 November 2021, and it is hosted by the UK Government. COP26 is attended by countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty agreed on in 1994.

It is expected that more than 120 world leaders will attend the event, and 25,000 people attending from 197 countries across the world.  

The Conference of Parties is held every year, the first one happened in 1995 in Berlin and 2020 was the first year with no COP, due to COVID-19. COP is hosted by one of the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Find out more about COP26.

Doha Amendment

The Doha Amendment is an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol which happened at the eighth Conference of Parties (COP8) which was held in Doha, Qatar in 2012. It set the second period of time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 2013 to 2020 by 18% below 1990 levels which was agreed by 37 countries.

Greenhouse gases

These are the gases that cause climate change and global warming.

Carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) are the main greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. There are also human-made greenhouse gases, for example, halocarbons.


The IPCC stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It brings together leading climate scientists to help understand the impact of humans on climate change. It has produced five reports and the sixth report is in the process of being published.

The UN Secretary-General called the latest IPCC report a 'code red for humanity', stating:

The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:  greenhouse‑gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.  Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.

The IPCC was created in 1988 by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organisation.

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international treaty that was agreed in 1997 and was agreed at the third Conference of Parties (COP3) which was held in Kyoto, Japan. It became international law in 2005 and 192 states signed up to the Kyoto Protocol. It set targets on emissions cuts for developed countries by 2012, which said countries should cut global greenhouse gases by 5% compared to 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Developing countries, like China, were allowed to increase their emissions as it was recognised that developed countries were mostly responsible for the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, an amendment was made to the Kyoto Protocol called the Doha Amendment.

Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC)

These are plans made by countries that set out the targets on cutting emissions and sometimes actions countries will take to meet the target. They are linked to the Paris Agreement and the goals set up by that agreement.

Countries nationally determined contributions (NDCs) must be submitted to the UNFCC every five years. The first NDCs were submitted in 2015, with new ones submitted every five years after so in 2020, 2025, 2030 etc.

Every time a new NDC is submitted, it should show additional changes and bigger targets in comparison to the previous NDC.

In December 2020, the UK Government announced plans to reduce UK emission levels by 68% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels as part of the UK's Nationally Determined Contribution.

The Scottish Government has also created a Nationally Determined Contribution, however as Scotland is part of the UK, it can not formally submit the plan to the UNFCC. But, the document explains what the Scottish Government is doing to meet the Paris Agreement, which includes a commitment to reduce emissions of all major greenhouse gases by at least 75% by 2030, compared to a 1990/1995 baseline.


Net-zero means that the amount of emissions that are put into the atmosphere are balanced by removing the same amount from the atmosphere.

Therefore, for every molecule of greenhouse gas we put into the air, we take one out. This might be done for example by creating carbon sinks (a place where greenhouse gases can be stored), such as creating new forests.

When net-zero is referred to in the context of the Paris Agreement and NDCs, it generally means cutting greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible first and then offsetting the amount that it isn't possible to cut (for example, in some sectors it can be hard to reduce emissions) by doing things that absorb greenhouse gases. 

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is an agreement between countries that was agreed in 2015 when COP21 (the 21st Conference of Parties) took place in Paris. The agreement set out goals to help tackle climate change, which include:

  • Reducing the amount of harmful greenhouse gases being produced and increasing the use of renewable energy, like wind and solar power;
  • a long-term goal of keeping global temperature increase "well below" 2C above pre-industrial levels, but to try to limit it to under 1.5C;
  • that global emissions should peak as soon as possible and after this, actions should be taken to quickly reduce emissions, but recognising that this might take longer for developing nations;
  • developed nations also agreed to raise $100 billion a year to support lower-income countries tackle climate change by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.

How well countries are doing was set to be reviewed every five years. This should have been in 2020, but due to COVID-19, COP26 was delayed until 2021.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCC came into effect in 1994 and was agreed at the Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro in 1992. It’s an international global treaty that was signed by 154 states who all agreed to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.

Today, there are 197 states that have signed the treaty.

To find out more about COP26 visit our COP26 hub.