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COP26: What to Expect

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Jonny Rogers breaks down the programme and priorities of COP26, exploring the challenges and opportunities afforded by the two-week conference.

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Between 31st October and 12th November, over 120 world leaders and 25,000 delegates will gather in Glasgow to discuss the future of the planet. The outcome might well be one of the most important events of this generation, and may determine the future of human history.

Following a World Leaders’ Summit hosted by Boris Johnson, the two-week programme will involve events centred on different themes, including energy, finance, youth empowerment, gender and science & innovation. The UK Presidency Pavilion will also host events from the UK Government and external organisations, including ‘The Power of TV to Combat the Climate Crisis’ and ‘Net Zero: Solutions for a Gender-sensitive Transition’.

At the end of the conference, a document signed by all nations will be published. Alok Sharma, who will be hosting the event, believes that this will prove even more difficult than the Paris Agreement, which is not currently ratified by some of the largest oil exporting nations. As Sharma describes:

“It’s like, we’ve got to the end of the exam paper and the most difficult questions are left and you’re running out of time, the exam’s over in half an hour and you go, ‘How are we going to answer this one?’”

Targets of COP26

In light of the UN’s Sixth Assessment Report in August – which consolidated the latest scientific evidence on climate change, predicting catastrophic consequences for inadequate political action – the conference committee has published a list of goals and priorities:

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

The Paris Agreement, which aims to reduce the global temperature rise to beneath 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, requires each participating party to present their nationally-determined contributions (NDCs), or the means by which they are reducing their carbon emissions.

Every five years, each party is required to return with reviewed and updated NDCs, but the pandemic prevented this from happening in December 2020. COP26 is expected to come with a surge of “ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets” from each nation, with the view of reaching global net-zero emissions.

  • Accelerate the phase-out of coal

  • Curtail deforestation

  • Speed up the switch to electric vehicles

  • Encourage investment in renewables.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The world is rapidly changing. Infrastructure is collapsing as permafrost melts in Arctic regions, while wildfires have spread throughout Australia, the United States, Canada, Greece, Algeria and Turkey in the past year alone. According to one report, only 3% of all ecosystems remain intact due to the impact of human activity over the past 500 years.

To counter the effects of our changing climate, COP26 will encourage nations to protect and restore ecosystems by building defences, warning systems, new infrastructure and agriculture to prevent the further loss of homes, livelihoods and lives.

“Around the world storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying. Air pollution sadly affects the health of tens of millions of people and unpredictable weather causes untold damage to homes and livelihoods too. But while the impacts of climate change are devastating, advances in tackling it are leading to cleaner air, creating good jobs, restoring nature and at the same time unleashing economic growth.” – UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, ‘COP26 Explained’

3. Mobilise finance

Climate change disproportionally impacts those who are least responsible: the island nation of Vanuatu, for example, is rapidly shrinking due to rising sea levels, despite accounting for less than 0.01% of global carbon emissions. Oxfam’s Forced From Home report estimated that over 20 million people are displaced by climate-related disasters each year, with lower-income nations being most vulnerable.

As such, wealthier countries will need to mobilise at least $100bn per year to achieve the first two goals of the conference: providing aid to those most impacted by climate change, and supporting the global transition towards sustainable infrastructure and renewable energy. Despite the commitment of wealthier nations over a decade ago to mobilise $100bn per year by 2020, climate finance only rose to $80bn per year in 2019.

4. Work together to deliver

While the ten largest polluters are responsible for over two-thirds of all carbon emissions, the climate crisis can only be resolved through global cooperation. COP26 will need to inspire sustained collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society, as well as bring about the finalisation of the Paris Rulebook (the means by which the Paris Agreement is put into action).

Concluding Comments

The discussions and events of COP26 will shape the coming decades and centuries. Many alive today will not live to see whether we achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, and many will not experience the most severe consequences of the climate crisis. As such, it should be encouraging that the programme places a particular focus on the younger generation, in recognition of the invaluable contribution of teenagers and young adults to the on-going climate discourse.

Nevertheless, complacent optimism must not undermine the importance of the conference; world leaders cannot afford to offload responsibilities to their successors, as the consequences of our changing climate are prevalent even today. The host city of Glasgow is preparing to welcome protestors at the conference, citing Glasgow’s long history with protests and campaigns. City council leader Susan Aitken has said that “It's enormously important that civil society... [is] able to influence what those world leaders are discussing.”

At present, only one country is set to achieve its contributions to Paris Agreement: The Republic of Gambia. We are, in fact, on track to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas by 2030 than would be compatible with 1.5-degree temperature rise. China, the largest contributor to global carbon emissions, is still yet to declare an NDC to the COP26 committee, and there is no guarantee that world leaders will attend every event.

We can only hope that those with the power to make a difference will approach COP26 as an opportunity for innovation and collaboration, guided by both evidence and compassion to prioritise the wellbeing and security of future generations.

“COP26 needs to be decisive. Whether future generations look back at this time with admiration or despair, depends entirely on our ability to seize this moment. Let’s seize it together.” - Alok Sharma, COP President


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