With so much talk about COP26 in the news, you may be wondering if it will make a real difference. We’ve summarised here what the COP26 conference is, and why it’s so important for tackling climate change.
Our sea levels are rising, pollution is intensifying and the world is heating up causing ice sheets to melt and ocean deoxygenation, and urgent plans are needed to tackle the problems causing this. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCC), the United Nations climate body, holds an annual summit known as COP, or Conference of the Parties. This is a meeting of all nations to come together and share knowledge about climate change, what can be done to tackle it and provide support to help combat the negative impacts of climate change on our environment. It is attended by national ministers and, for the key summits, heads of state. All countries are ‘parties to the Convention’, and the COP is its supreme decision-making body.
COP26 is considered significant as it will be the first COP to take place after the landmark Paris Agreement’s measures take effect and the first opportunity since then for nations to come together to review commitments and strengthen ambitions.
The last major climate summit was COP25, held in Madrid in 2019. It was deemed a failure because nations like the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, China and Brazil kicked discussions over carbon emissions down the road to COP26.
COP26 aims to hold these nations to account, on the world stage where it’s not so easy to hide away from the issues affecting our planet. The climate change debate in 2021 has been all about ratifying the Paris agreement – and that’s what will be on the agenda for COP26.
COP26 is an opportunity for climate debates to be taken seriously at an international level. It’s the forum for our world leaders to define and understand the important issues with scientific facts and information, and for us to cut through the jargon to know what the scientists and politicians are talking about.
Planning around becoming a net-zero world by 2050, and mobilising finance in order to pay for green investment, will take place. But the most important decision at COP26 is to finalise the Paris Rulebook of global goals and agreements set out in 2016.
Politicians and world leaders have been known to use climate conferences to deliver bold statements that make them appear ‘green’, even if their policies don’t always stack up.
The list of confirmed political attendees for COP26 include:
US president Joe Biden
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau
UK prime minister Boris Johnson
Scotland first minister Nicola Sturgeon
French president Emmanuel Macron
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett
And while climate activist Greta Thunbeg has a ticket, she is yet to confirm that she will attend.
Here are some of the key subjects that will be discussed…
Biodiversity: the variety of the different species of organisms on Earth or within an ecosystem. Biodiversity loss is one of the key pillars being tackled at the conference.
Climate change: this familiar term refers to the changes in the world’s temperature and weather patterns, caused principally by emissions from burning fossil fuels.
CO2: Carbon Dioxide is the principal greenhouse gas produced by human activity. This and other toxins are accelerants to climate change. 35% of carbon absorption happens in the Amazon Rainforest.
Carbon-neutrality: neutrality is when a process does not increase the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it takes in as much carbon dioxide as it releases.
Climate justice: an approach to frame the climate crisis as an ethical and political issue, looking at it from a social fairness and human rights perspective. It means acknowledging the fair treatment of all people, without discrimination, in the creation of policies and projects that address climate change.
Global warming: the long-term heating of the Earth’s climate system since industrialisation. Global temperatures have increased by 1.7°c over the last century.
Renewable energy: energy types that are generated from natural resources, such as water, wind or sunlight.
Paris Agreement: a multi-national pledge to keep global temperature rises below 2°c. The US withdrew in 2017 but then rejoined with Joe Biden’s inauguration as president.