What Is COP26 & Why Is It Important? Here’s Your Guide To The United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021

Here is everything you need to know about the upcoming Glasgow Conference, seeking to forge a global response to the climate emergency in 2021.

The COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference, hosted by the United Kingdom, in partnership with Italy, will take place from October 31 to November 12, 2021, in Glasgow, UK.

Here is why this conference is so important, and how it might impact your life.

What is COP26?

For roughly three decades now, world governments have met nearly every year to forge a global response to the climate crisis. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, every country on earth is treaty-bound to “avoid dangerous climate change” along with finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in a way that is equitable.

COP26 bushfire in australia
Bushfires, Tasmania, Australia. Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

COP itself stands for “Conference of the Parties” under the UNFCCC, and the annual meetings have had occasional triumphs, including: the Paris climate agreement in 2015.

2021 marks the 26th iteration of the conference, postponed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 120 world leaders, including: President Joe Biden (United States,) Prime Minister Boris Johnson (United Kingdom,) First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (Scotland,) and Queen Elizabeth II (United Kingdom,) will be in attendance for the first few days. The leaders will then depart, leaving the negotiations to their representatives.

Around 25,000 people are expected to attend the conference in total.

Why is COP26 Important?

COP26 represents one of the first chances for countries attending, to update the world on the progress that has been made towards the Paris Climate Agreement goals that were first established during COP21 in 2015.

In this agreement, in which 191 countries formally joined, committed to limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Fahrenheit (F,) aiming to limit it to 1.5 degrees F – along with agreeing to provide an update of the emissions reduction activity every fifth summit.

Therefore, COP26 is extremely important – as it provides this opportunity for countries to update the global community on their emissions reduction activities and, on how far along each country is in achieving its net-zero targets.

Global climate change protest demonstration
Global climate change protest demonstration. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

What Is Net-Zero?

Net-zero, in its simplest term – refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced, and the amount removed from the atmosphere. Essentially, achieving net-zero is when the amount we add to something is no more than the amount taken away.

Gross zero would mean stopping all emissions entirely, however, this is not realistic across all aspects of people’s lives and all sectors of the world and intersected industries. Net-zero considers overall emissions, allowing for the removal of any unavoidable emissions, such as those coming from manufacturing or aviation. While these emissions can be reduced to a certain extent, there will always be some level of emissions remaining.

Reaching net-zero is essential. Scientists have widely acknowledged that climate change is triggered by increasing levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Pollution and transportation
Pollution and transportation. Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

Greenhouse gases warm the surface temperature of the Earth and the air above it – creating a greenhouse effect – thus the name. This is caused by gases that trap energy from the sun; the most common greenhouse gases being water vapor, carbon dioxide, and methane.

Carbon dioxide is the most dangerous and abundant of the greenhouse gases, explaining why cutting carbon emissions, and reducing our carbon footprint are suggested as the best ways to addressing climate change.

Committing to achieving net-zero has been said by scientists to be the best way to tackling climate change and reducing global warming.

Are We Close to Net-Zero?

No. The United Nations recently reported that the current nationally determined contributions, including those that have been newly submitted or revised by the U.S., EU, ad EK, and more than 100 other countries, are still inadequate.

So much more remains to be done.

Goals of COP26 

Planet over Profit, Fridays for Future, global climate strike on the European election, 2019
Planet over Profit, Fridays for Future, global climate strike on the European election, 2019. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

A recent United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change report (IPCCC,) highlighted a lack of sufficient action from political leaders across the world to combat the climate crisis, warning that changes are now irreversible.

COP26 is therefore considered one of the final opportunities for the world to find a way to prevent the worst effects of climate change. The goals of COP26 include: securing global net-zero by 2050, keeping the 1.5 degrees F global warming limit within reach, adapting to protect natural habitats and communities around the world, mobilize finance to raise billions of dollars in climate finance, and finally, working together to agree on, deliver, and most important, rise to the challenges of the climate emergency.

Lily Adami

Content Editor Associate

Having a silly and hard-working personality, Lily loves getting to know people and is passionate about human rights around the world. She is enthusiastic about other cultures, history, and international affairs. Lily has a deep appreciation for traveling, her favorite places include: Amsterdam, Amalfi Coast, and South Africa.

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