COP 26: All You Need to Know

As countries begin to bounce back from the Coronavirus pandemic, the focus now shifts to climate change and timely action. Changes are being made in leaps and bounds: clean energy is currently the cheapest electricity source for many countries. Governments and corporations are throwing themselves into environmentally friendly projects such as reforestation. The UN SDGs have transformed from something to aspire towards to something we’re working towards.

Despite the opportunities, progress isn’t speedy enough. In recognition of this, the United Nations has been bringing countries together through global climate summits for the last three decades. They are COPs — Conference of the Parties — and this year’s is set to be the world’s best chance to bring climate change under control.

What is the COP and the COP26?

In this Conference of the Parties, said Parties are those who have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is a 1994 treaty with 197 signatories (196 countries and the EU).

The COP26 is the 26th such global annual summit, with the United Kingdom being the President. 2021’s conference (initially scheduled for November 2020) will be held in Glasgow, in partnership with Italy, from 31 October — 12 November 2001.

Why Glasgow? The selection of the venue was far from random, as the Dear Green Place is renowned for its commitment to sustainability and top-tier facilities. Through the Sustainable Glasgow campaign, Scotland’s largest city aims to be one of the greenest cities in Europe and achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

Over 190 world leaders are scheduled to attend the summit — and they will partner up with government representatives, negotiators, citizens, and businesses for talks to last twelve days.

The first-ever Conference of the Parties was held in Paris in 2015 and gave rise to the historic Paris Agreement. Countries agreed to bring forward national plans outlining how much they will decrease their emissions under the Paris Agreement — and these were known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs. They promised to revisit the plan every five years with an updated version that reflected their highest aspirations at the moment.

However, countries recognize that this decade is the most crucial of all, so the COP26 becomes even more monumental. Alok Sharma, COP President-Delegate, sets the tone for the summit:

“At COP26, we will work with partners to take forward action on protecting and restoring forests and critical ecosystems, and we will champion the transition towards sustainable, resilient, and nature positive agriculture.”

The COP26 Sustainability Governing Principles

Naturally, it’s worth wondering about the climate impacts of the conference itself. The UK has taken that into account and established the Sustainability Governing Principles to ensure the conference is carbon neutral.

  1. Actively manage potential impacts on the environment and local community and identify opportunities to deliver environmental and social value
  2. Provide an accessible and inclusive setting for all
  3. Encourage healthy living
  4. Ensure a safe and secure atmosphere
  5. Encourage more sustainable behavior
  6. Promote the use of responsible sources and responsible use of resources throughout the supply chain
  7. Leave a positive legacy

What are the aims of COP26 in 2021?

As with all complex international discussions around climate, the COP26 also has an agenda that outlines the goals and topics to be talked about. For this year, the United Kingdom has selected the following.

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

The 2015 Paris Agreement’s main target was to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. However, the world is not on track, and the pandemic only served to set us further off course. Over the next decade, science dictates that the world needs to cut emissions by half and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 to limit global warming successfully. The UK will call on the largest emitters to take the lead, phase out their reliance on coal power, and work towards delivering clean energy to every citizen. In their homeland, they plan to end the sale of new diesel and petrol cars by 2030 and send a strong signal to similar countries.

To reach this goal, COP26 is also expected to emphasize the importance of protecting existing forests and providing resources for regeneration. This is especially important given trees play a vital role in removing carbon from the air.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The changing climate has heightened the extreme weather that millions of people around the world are grappling with. The most vulnerable communities are highly at risk of losing homes and livelihoods to climate change. During the COP26, the UK will call for international bodies to join hands in protecting communities from devastating effects, minimizing losses, and averting catastrophes before they strike.

Protecting natural habitats also serves to boost the inherent resilience of our ecosystems. They will help to build natural defenses against floods and storms and contribute to sustainable farming and agriculture. All countries are expected to produce an Adaptation Communication, which summarizes each country’s plan of action, roadmap, potential challenges, and help requests. According to Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK International Champion on Adaptation and Resilience for the COP26 Presidency, these Adaptation Communications should share “best practice to help turn ambition into action.”

3. Mobilize finance

The scope and speed of the changes we need to make will necessitate a wide range of financial resources. Climate change must be considered in every financial decision. Of course, this applies to private investment decisions. However, climate change also needs to be accounted for in all spending decisions that countries and international financial institutions make, especially as they roll out stimulus packages to rebuild economies from the pandemic.

Developing countries in particular need support. In its COP26 agenda, the UK says that developed countries must deliver on their promise to raise at least $100 billion every year in climate finance to support developing countries. It also invites companies and businesses to be transparent about the risks and opportunities of becoming a net-zero economy. Naturally, that means financial institutions such as banks and lending firms must also be ready to weather the change that the shift to net-zero will bring.

4. Work together to deliver

Finalizing the regulations needed to execute the Paris Agreement, known as the “Paris Rulebook,” is a major focus of the talks. These are “detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational”. Collectively, the COP26 must find solutions for carbon mitigation and adaptation actions. Transparent reporting will build confidence in the system and make available help whenever it is needed. The UK, in particular, hopes to facilitate an agreement that powers the ambition to keep the 1.5 degrees dream alive and well within reach.

The final word

The overarching goal of COP26 is to turn ambition into action. Every aspect of our society and economy needs to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb to replace degrading processes with transparent, environment-friendly, and sustainable ones. That would mean relooking at what we eat, how we power our homes and transport, what we invest in, how we develop infrastructure, and more.

Through the COP, the UK, future Presidents, and the United Nations hope to lay the foundations for speedier progress in the crucial decade to come.

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Bas Fransen, CEO EcoMatcher

EcoMatcher connects companies, communities, and consumers through trustworthy and transparent tree-planting.