COP26: What You Need to Know
In this article, we explore all things COP26. The 26th UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, starts today in Glasgow, Scotland, and runs until Friday 12th November.
What does COP stand for?
A ‘COP’ is a Conference of the Parties. Global climate summits like this have been organised by the UN for nearly thirty years. Invitees include heads of state, businesses and citizens who all come together to discuss and plan strategies to combat the climate crisis. With Italy and the UK being co-presidents of COP26, a Youth4Climate conference and a Pre-COP were hosted in Milan from 28th September to 2nd October.
However, this year certain major leaders are expected to be absent. These include Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia, whose countries will be represented by other members of their government.
Such absenteeism already sends a political message by both nations of a lack of commitment to take concrete action to curb carbon emissions.
One of the aims of COP26 is to evaluate how different countries have stuck to the pledges made in Paris at COP21 in 2015. The Paris Agreement was a legal agreement signed by 196 nations who committed to limiting global warming between 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees, in comparison to pre-industrial levels. At COP26, Parties hope to finalise the ‘Paris Rulebook’.
Subsidiary goals will also be, according to the COP26 website,
1: ‘securing global net zero by mid-century’;
2: ‘adapt to protect communities and natural habitats’;
3: ‘mobilise finance’; and
4: ‘work together to deliver’.
What do all these goals mean though?
1. Net zero is supposedly the state of carbon neutrality. In other words, carbon dioxide emissions are in equilibrium with the removal of carbon dioxide from the air. In theory, this could be done by intensely phasing out the use of coal, rapidly curbing deforestation and promoting significant investment in renewable energy sources. Many countries have published national plans for reaching net zero by 2030. Most recently, the Australian government's net zero by 2050 plan was heavily criticised for being 'hollow' and 'hard to believe'. However, it is important to note that the concept of net zero is actually misleading. The amount of carbon that safely exists in unburned fossil fuels is not the same as the carbon that exists in the atmosphere after fossil fuels have been burned as this causes global warming.
2. Protecting communities and habitats entails restoring ecosystems and creating protective measures to secure infrastructure and livelihoods at risk of the effects of the climate crisis. The Pew Trust explores the different nature-based solutions that should be explored at COP26 here.
3. Mobilising finance is the key to adhering to the above two goals and will particularly require the input and commitment of wealthier governments and trans-national corporations. For a critical analysis of the benefits and risks of climate finance, read this article by US Council on Foreign Policy.
4. Working together means encouraging collaborative work among regions, governments, businesses, and citizens to achieve the above goals. A excellent read on the importance of communication and collaboration with regards to tackling climate change is Saving Us: A Climate Scientist's Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World by the climate scientist, Katharine Hayhoe.
What are we expecting from COP26?
We are hoping to see definitive action from governments and corporations. At COP21 in Paris, the main outcome was a commitment by 196 nations to limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees. We are now at a stage where commitment is simply not enough. We need to see conclusive measures being taken if we are to believe that governments and corporations are truly devoted to tackling the climate crisis.
So, the big question is, will realising COP26's outlined goals really help us avert and revert the climate crisis?
We will have to wait and see. Stay tuned for an update during COP26 from us here at SCOOP UK where we will give you the lowdown on what has been happening, and again at the close of the conference where we will round up the most important points to take away from COP26.
Credit: Adrija Sivadas - SCOOP UK Graphic Editor