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COP26: When is the Glasgow climate change conference and what is it for?

Glasgow will be the at the heart of the global fight against the climate crisis when COP26 arrives in town. But when is the conference, and what is it for?

Boris Johnson at the launch of COP26. Image: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson at the launch of COP26. Image: Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

For two weeks from the start of November , the world’s eyes will be on Glasgow as thousands of international politicians, protesters and experts descend on the city for COP26

The climate conference has been billed as a once-in-a-lifetime chance for world leaders to commit to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the climate crisis from spiralling out of control. 

Scientists and experts say the event is a critical moment for the planet, with the success or failure of talks determining our future for decades to come. 

Here’s what you need to know about the summit.

What does COP26 stand for? 

“COP” stands for “conference of the parties” and refers to the global climate summits hosted by the United Nations (UN) which bring together almost every country in the world to discuss the issue of global warming. 

The last COP was held in Madrid in 2019, with the pandemic in 2020 delaying the summit planned for that year. 

The “26” in this year’s COP title simply refers to the fact that the event will be the 26th held. 

What will happen at COP26? 

The three main components of the conference are:

  • negotiations between countries and experts; 
  • exhibitions and fringe events 
  • climate talks and events for the public held around Glasgow.

The conference has been split into two main “zones” this year: the “blue zone” and the “green zone”.

The blue zone will host politicians, journalists and other officials for talks by leaders and is not accessible to the general public.

The green zone, open to the public, is being hosted by Glasgow Science Centre and features exhibitions, talks and events from climate and environment groups like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Protests are expected around the city throughout the two-week event. 

What are the goals of COP26?

The overarching goal of COP26 is to curb all countries’ greenhouse gas emissions to slow the climate crisis.

In 2015, the COP meeting in Paris saw world leaders agree to keep global warming below an increase of 1.5C in a pact known as “the Paris Agreement”. 

World leaders will set out bold long and short-term targets for reducing their emissions in line with this target, with a number of countries including the UK already having committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2050.

Many hope the conference will build on the achievements of the Paris Agreement, which also laid out plans to protect ecosystems and help countries adapt to the impacts of global warming — particularly those most immediately at risk from the effects of climate change, such as in the Global South. Countries will discuss the progress they’ve made in cutting emissions while looking to future climate goals too.

Much of the attention will be on politicians at COP26, but the event is designed as a collaboration between leaders, scientists and experts, NGOs and civil society – to ensure everyone can pitch in to the fight to stop the climate crisis.

Yet some fear that representatives from some poorer countries, who suffer the worst impacts of climate change, will be shut out from the event because of the costs involved in attending.  

“Our concern is that those countries most deeply affected by the climate crisis and the countries suffering from the artificial shortage created around vaccines will be conspicuous by their absence,” said Tasneem Essop, executive director of the Climate Action Network.

“There has always been an inherent power imbalance between rich and poor nations within the UN climate talks and this is now compounded by the health crisis.”

“COP26 has already been postponed by one year, and we are all too aware climate change has not taken time off,” said Tory MP Alok Sharma, the COP26 president. The conference “must go ahead this November to allow world leaders to come together and set out decisive commitments to tackle climate change,” he added.

What will be discussed at COP26?

The summit will focus on different broad themes every day, including nature, climate justice and the built environment. 

There’s likely to be a focus throughout on how to cut down fossil fuel usage and stop deforestation. Recent research showed the Amazon rainforest now emits more CO2 than it absorbs, an urgent concern for the climate.

Experts will also discuss accelerating the shift to electric cars and boosting cash investment in renewable energy, for both well-off countries and those with fewer resources.

Why does COP26 matter?

A number of scientists and experts believe this year’s event presents the planet’s last chance to get climate change under control. 

Already, many parts of the world are experiencing extreme weather events, wildfire and flooding linked to climate change.

The conference also presents the first chance since 2015 for world leaders to discuss their progress on curbing emissions since the Paris Agreement. 

It’s thought many countries could bring forward their plans to reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases  from 2050 to 2030.

But the UK has reportedly scrapped a key Paris Agreement commitment as part of a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia.

Sky News reported ministers had removed the requirement to limit global temperature rise in the treaty after pressure from the Australian government. 

Removing specifics around temperature duties “renders using the Paris Agreement utterly useless,” Greenpeace said.

Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng – trade secretary and business secretary respectively – allegedly agreed to “drop both of the climate asks” from the trade deal, according to a leaked government email seen by Sky, though there is still reference to the Paris Agreement in the text.

It differs from the trade deal signed between the UK and the EU, which states that the deal would be suspended if either party does not stick to its climate commitments. Australia is also a signatory of the Paris Agreement but has less ambitious climate targets than other countries.

Who will be attending? 

Last minute snubs by key world leaders like China’s Xi Jinping — who reportedly will not attend — have led some to fear the climate conference could be a flop. 

China makes a large contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, meaning their participation in targets on emissions will be vital to solving the crisis. 

The key leaders and figureheads attending in person include:

  • US President Joe Biden with several officials
  • The Queen, Prince William, Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett,
  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Some of the key leaders and figureheads not attending in person include:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin 
  • China’s President, Xi Jinping
  • Pope Francis 
  • Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro

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