What is COP?

The UN Conference of the Parties, known as COP, is an annual summit bringing together governments, businesses and individuals around the world to address the biggest challenge facing humanity: climate change.  

COP is attended by the countries that signed the UN climate change treaty in 1994, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or ‘UNFCCC’. There are currently 197 members of the UNFCCC.  

This year’s summit will be the 26th COP to take place, hence ‘COP26’. The session was originally set to take place in November 2020, but was delayed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. As many as 200 world leaders and 36,000 delegates are expected to attend. 

COP26 will be hosted by the UK in Glasgow, with Italy as co-presidents. The role of the COP26 presidency is to summon greater ambition from other nations in meeting the binding targets of the Paris Agreement.

 

What is the Paris Agreement?

In 2015, Paris hosted the 21 Conference of the Parties, COP21. The event gave rise to the most significant benchmark of any COP to date: the 1.5oC  limit. The talks resulted in an agreement to try to ensure that global temperatures did not exceed 1.5oC  above pre-industrial levels, and ‘well below’ 2oC . Out of 197 member countries, 191 signed the agreement, which also included targets to reduce harmful greenhouse gases and increase renewable energy sources. 

To meet this goal, every country must contribute emissions reductions and set out targets for doing so by 2025 or 2030. These plans are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).  

In 2020, the Paris Agreement resurfaced in global conversations when the United States, under the presidency of Donald Trump, pulled out of the deal.  

Timeline of COP benchmarks

  • 1988

    The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is esbtalished. IPCC assessments are the scientific underpinning of international negotiations.

  • 1990

    The IPCC releases the first assessment report on the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases resulting from human activities, leading to calls for a global treaty.

  • 1994

    The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) enters into force. 196 countries signed the treaty, and begin the meet annually as the Conference of the Parties (COP).

  • 1997

    The Kyoto Protocol, the world's first greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty, is adopted.

  • 2015

    The Paris Agreement is established to limit global temperatures to 1.5oC . 195 nations sign the agreement.

  • 2021

    IPCC release a 'code red for humanity' landmark report, confirming that without radical reductions in carbon emissions this decade, temperature rises above 1.5oC would be inevitable.

COP: UN Conference of the Parties

1.1oC

average rise in global temperatures over the last century

1.5oC

temperature rise limit set by the Paris Agreement

Why is COP26 so critically important?

COP26 is being publicised as the most significant such event since COP21 and the creation of the Paris Agreement. The decisions made in a few weeks’ time will be make or break for action-oriented global policy change. 

For a multitude of reasons, the outcomes of COP26 will be pivotal to our success in tackling the climate crisis. In August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a landmark report, ‘a code red for humanity’, which confirms that without radical reductions in carbon emissions this decade, temperature rises above 1.5oC  would be inevitable and irreversible. With this message centre stage, decision-makers will be under extreme pressure to deliver real and effective pathways to net-zero and to make up for lost time in the wake of Covid-19, which hampered collaborative action at a crucial juncture for humanity. 

What can we expect from COP26?

Many countries, including the UK, have set targets to achieve net zero by 2050 – in other words, to reach the point where their annual carbon dioxide emissions no longer exceed the volume removed from the atmosphere. Delegates including politicians, diplomats and campaigners will hold discussions focusing on whether the commitments made by countries to cut emissions will be enough to meet the Paris Agreement targets. 

The planet is currently 1.1.oC  hotter than a century ago. If we are to have any chance of remaining within the 1.5oC  temperature rise limit, we need COP26 to catalyse bold, radical and rapid action on the part of world leaders – action that encompasses both the decarbonisation of industries and the protection and restoration of nature, our most valuable ally in the global quest to achieve net-zero.