What is COP26 and why is it so important?

·Political Correspondent - Yahoo News UK
·5-min read
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A pre-COP26 school strike in Milan, Italy. (PA Images)

What is COP26 and what does it stand for?

COP26 is the forthcoming UN climate change conference. Its name stands for "Conference of the Parties 26", with the "26" referring to the conference's 26th meeting.

World leaders will come together at COP26 in Glasgow to discuss what action they can take to tackle climate change and help protect the environment.

The conference, which usually takes place yearly, has often been criticised for failing to achieve significant enough outcomes when it comes to addressing the climate crisis. 

When and where will COP26 take place?

COP26 will run from Sunday, 31 October, until Friday, 12 November, in Glasgow.

It was due to be held last year, but was delayed due to the COVID pandemic.

Glasgow has pledged to plant 18 million trees in preparation for the summit. 

The Armadillo, Exhibition Halls and SSE Hydro, on the Scottish Event Campus alongside the River Clyde in Glasgow, which will host the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (Cop26) next month. Picture date: Wednesday September 29, 2021.
The Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, which will host COP26. (PA Images)

Who’s going to COP26?

Representatives of nearly 200 countries around the world will meet at COP26, including the Queen and senior members of the Royal Family who will attend a series of events

The UK is the host nation and the president of the conference is former business secretary Alok Sharma. 

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist who gained international recognition for calling out world leaders for not doing enough to stop climate change, will also be present.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: A ship passes beneath the Bay Bridge as smoke from various wildfires burning across Northern California mixes with the marine layer, blanketing San Francisco in darkness and an orange glow on September 9, 2020 in San Francisco, California. Over 2 million acres have burned this year as wildfires continue to burn across the state. (Photo by Philip Pacheco/Getty Images)
Record-breaking wildfires in the US in 2020 turned the sky orange over San Francisco. (Getty Images)

In total, it is expected around 25,000 people will attend the conference – from international politicians, to journalists, to experts.

However, how successful the summit will be has been thrown into question after reports that leaders of two of the world's biggest polluters – China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin – are set not attend at all. 

The Pope, who was due to attend, has also announced he will not be travelling to Glasgow.

Why is COP26 important?

COP26 is an opportunity for world leaders to come together and commit to meaningful action on the existential threat of climate change.

The consequences of climate change become more stark over recent years due to an increasing number of extreme weather events – including record-breaking heat waves, more powerful hurricanes and catastrophic flooding.

At present, without action, climate models place the trajectory for the planet by 2100 to between 3C to 4C of warming. 

SHANGHAI, CHINA - MAY 20: Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jingping (R) attend a welcoming ceremony on May 20, 2014 in Shanghai, China. Putin is having a two day visit to China (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China are among those who have signalled they may not attend COP26. (PA Images)

A rise of that magnitude would cause mass extinctions, mass human migration from countries closer to the equator as farmland turns to desert and temperatures rise to uninhabitable levels, and countries in areas like the South Pacific disappearing entirely.  

What is the Paris Agreement?

In 2015, 196 countries for the first time committed to a legally binding international treaty on climate change that came into force in late 2016. 

The agreement seeks to stop global warming going above 2C, and aims for a goal of 1.5C – with a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century. 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the launch of the next COP26 UN Climate Summit at the Science Museum, London.
Boris Johnson has described COP26 as a 'turning point for the world'. (PA Images)

It also seeks to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, as well as bringing economies and societies towards low greenhouse emissions. 

To achieve these goals, it pledges to reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gases produced, increase the use of renewable energy, and spend $100bn a year in climate finance to help poorer countries by 2020. 

However, analysis has shown that countries have fallen around $20bn short of the pledge. 

The Paris Agreement was put in jeopardy in 2019 after Donald Trump took the US, one of the world's biggest polluters, out of the treaty. However, Joe Biden's administration quickly re-entered it in 2021. 

Will there be any protests?

On the 6 November – a Saturday – there will be marches in Glasgow and London organised by the COP26 Coalition.

In Glasgow, the crowd will assemble at midday at Kelvingrove Park, before marching to Glasgow Green for a rally at 3pm.

In central London, the march will set off from outside the Bank of England, ending with a rally at Trafalgar Square.

There will be satellite demonstrations in Nottingham, Chichester, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, Oxford, Newcastle, Leeds, Truro, Swansea, Sheffield, Birmingham and Plymouth.

Will COP26 achieve anything?

Many of those attending the conference are optimistic that it will achieve meaningful change and get the world on track to 1.5C of global warming.

Boris Johnson has described the event as a "turning point for the world". 

“We go through a period of glorious indifference about the world, we have been through that, we have been through our childhood, if you like," the PM said. 

The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg speaks in Piazza Castello during the Friday for future in Turin, Italy on December 13, 2019. (Photo by Alberto Gandolfo/Pacific Press/Sipa USA)
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg speaks in Turin, Italy, in December 2019. (Pacific Press/Sipa USA)

“We have now got to realise this is a problem that requires grip and there are changes we are going to have to make.

"But people should be optimistic because we can make these changes whilst encouraging the creation of literally millions of high-wage, high-skilled jobs."

However, climate activists like Thunberg have questioned whether anything will be achieved at all, saying it is unlikely there will be "big changes". 

And with leaders like president Xi of China, the world's biggest polluter, potentially skipping the summit, there is likely be an air of pessimism around the event.

Watch: What is COP26 and how will it affect the future of climate change?

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