What is COP26?

Find out everything you need to about COP26 below.

What is COP26?

COP26 stands for 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. This international event will bring together world leaders, national governments, non-governmental organisations, and activists to discuss climate change and make decisions and commitments on how best to tackle it.

Why is it important?

COP26 is seen by many as the last chance to meet the Paris Agreement targets. It will be the first five year review since the targets were set and will ask leaders to address what has and hasn’t been achieved since 2015. 

Friends of the Earth have stressed that COP26 is vital, as the "window of opportunity to remain under that crucial 1.5 degrees of planetary warming is getting smaller and smaller with each passing year".

At the moment, experts say that we are not on track to limit global warming to 1.5C.

Bella Black, Global North Youth Co-Chair, has said: "COP26 is one of our last and most crucial opportunities to make sure it is humanity that has to change, and not the planet."

Background

In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set up to support countries tackling climate change. It provides governments with scientific information to develop climate policies. 

In 1994 the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) came into force and its ultimate objective is to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate. Currently, 197 countries have ratified the UNFCCC, which means they are collectively responsible to implement the convention. The Conference of Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body for the UNFCCC.

The first COP was held in Germany in 1995 and has been held every year since, except 2020 as a result of the pandemic.

The three most significant COPs to date are:

  • COP3 in 1997: the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. It committed state parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on the scientific consensus that global warming was occurring, and that human activity was responsible.
  • COP15 in 2009: climate change policy was raised to the highest political level, with around 115 world leaders attending the high-level segment of the event. At the time, this was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders outside the UN headquarters.
  • COP21 in 2015: the Paris Agreement was adopted. This is a legally binding international treaty which aims to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees but preferably to 1.5 degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. 

The Paris Agreement (2015)

Nations agreed:

  • 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.

Each country that signed the agreement has submitted a national climate plan (called a Nationally Determined Contribution) that aims to say how each country will reach the above targets.

Developed nations also agreed to raise $100 billion dollars a year to support lower income countries tackle climate change by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future

Find out more about the Paris Agreement

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.

Useful links

There are lots of useful places to get further information, including: