‘COP’ stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. The parties are the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty signed in 1994. The COP brings these signatory parties together once a year to discuss how to jointly address climate change. It was originally scheduled to take place in November 2020 but was postponed by one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is now due to take place in Glasgow from 1–12 November 2021. Since the 2021 meeting will be the 26th meeting, it’s called COP26.
Many people see it as the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement.
What happened at the previous 25 summits?
The conference is held annually but this year is critical because scientists say nations must make an immediate, sharp pivot away from fossil fuels if they hope to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. COP26 has been billed as ‘the last best hope for the world’.
The first COP was held in Berlin in 1995 after a critical mass of nations ratified the climate convention. It was a milestone and set the stage for the Kyoto Protocol, two years later, which required wealthy, industrialised nations to curb emissions.
In 2015, after more than two decades of disputes over which nations bear the most responsibility for tackling climate change, leaders of nearly 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement. That deal was considered groundbreaking. For the first time, rich and poor countries agreed to act, albeit at different paces, to tackle climate change.
While leaders made big promises in Paris, countries have not done enough to stave off the worst impacts of climate change, which brings us to COP26 in Glasgow, where the pressure is on for leaders to be more ambitious.
The Paris Agreement
COP26 is critical because it’s the first moment when countries must set out more actionable goals for ending their contribution to climate change under the Paris Agreement.
There are mainly three targets under the Paris Agreement. First of all, limiting the global temperature increase to 2 degrees celcius compared to the ‘preindustrial period’ of the years between 1850 and 1900, and to 1.5 degrees celcius if possible (the current increase is approximately 1.2 degrees). Secondly, lowering greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities to a point where trees, soils and oceans can naturally absorb them, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100. Finally, providing climate financing to support the fight against climate change and ensure the transition to renewable energy in developing countries.
Who will attend COP26?
President Biden said recently that he will ‘be there with bells on’ having hosted the Virtual Leaders Summit which ‘was live-streamed for the public and saw 40 world leaders come together to discuss what can be done to encourage climate action.’ He is among about 100 heads of state who have said they will attend, including Queen Elizabeth, Boris Johnson, and Nicola Sturgeon.
Among those who so far have not RSVP’d in the affirmative is President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter.
Thousands of diplomats from nearly 200 countries will conduct the nuts and bolts of the negotiations, while business leaders, academic experts and activists, including Greta Thunberg, plan to monitor the proceedings and in many cases will advocate the most ambitious outcome.
About 25,000 people are expected to attend the conference in total. Some have suggested the number of flights required to facilitate this is counterproductive, but ‘many developing nations have insisted on having an in-person COP [as] they feel that it is far easier for their voices to be ignored on a dodgy Zoom connection.’
About the author: Tuğçe Ergüden is a contributing Features Writer with extensive expertise in environmental and energy law.
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