COP stands for Conference of the Parties, under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). While it would be pleasing if the annual number lined up with the current year, COP meetings began in 1995, following almost every year since. The UNFCCC was established in 1992, to ensure that every country on Earth would be treaty-bound to “avoiding dangerous climate change” – bringing world leaders together to find ethical solutions for reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This year’s event will be held in Glasgow, between Sunday 31st October and Friday 12th November. Hosting is attainable for any nation and tends to sway between developed and developing countries. Previous noteworthy COPs include Copenhagen, Kyoto, Lima and Durban, with each focusing on various issues and being concluded with varying degrees of success. This year’s iteration is being co-hosted with Italy, including a pre-COP and youth COP in Milan, as well as hosting the G20 leader’s meeting a few days before COP26.
How did COP25 go?
‘Partial agreement to ask countries to come up with more ambitious targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions’ was the line used to describe the outcome, with a modest selection of solutions seen from the event in Madrid two years ago.
Talks centered around technical problems like financial assistance needed for poor countries to recover from climate change-induced turmoil – but disappointingly many of the issues weren’t effectively tackled, instead pushed back to the following meeting planned for 2020. However, it did see Europe finally agree to its target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
So, what has happened since then?
With vital agreements being left for 2020’s COP26, the pandemic couldn’t have arrived at a worse time. The event was postponed, with the issues of COP25 left to wait for another year.
2020 was one of the three warmest years on record – with COVID19-related economic slowdown failing to bring positive effects for the environment. Greenhouse gas concentrations, land and ocean temperatures and sea levels all increased, while extreme weather continued to worsen.
An important component of each COP event is the establishment of NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions – a set of agreed targets and input from countries, originally created by international climate negotiators in the early 1990s. These have since significantly been updated and the 2015 Paris agreement saw a near-comprehensive list of countries committing to a new list of NDCs.
However, the initial round of NDCs have since been deemed insufficient to achieve the Paris goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and keeping global warming far below 2°C (above pre-industrial levels). As a result of this, a renewed list is created every five years to move closer to greenhouse gas and warming reduction goals.
Crucially, the current revised list by the US, EU, UK and over 100 others has been declared as still inadequate. The greenhouse gas emissions reduction needed is 45%, while the current NDC’s total stands at 16%, meaning there is much work to be done at COP26.
Speaking of COVID-19, are there concerns about the event?
After being postponed in May 2020, the Scottish Government and the UK’s national government have been closely engaged in preparing for the in-person event.
The decision to host COP26 in this format, and not virtually, was one with progress in mind. The difficulty of reaching agreements and inputs virtually has been well documented, and the main fear was that virtual conferences would allow countries to dodge tough issues and continue with their current environmental outputs without the change needed.
With that in mind, access has been limited to three categories of guests:
- Representatives of Parties to the Convention and Observer States
- Members of the press and media
- Representatives of observer organisations
There are over 100 key leaders attending, including Prime Minister (UK) Boris Johnson, President (U.S) Joe Biden and First Minister (Scotland) Nicola Sturgeon. However, there are also some notable confirmed absentees – China’s President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Delegates have been offered vaccinations by the UK government prior to the event, but those from red list countries will still have to quarantine. The UK government has also offered to pay the costs for those countries that cannot otherwise afford to come.
Does COP26 hinge on China?
Quite possibly. They are easily the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, with around 26% of global emissions. They’re yet to produce a new NDC, and the missing presence of Xi Jinping will be felt at COP26. Last year he announced that China would reach net zero emissions by 2060, but also an insufficient pledge of peak emissions by 2030. Scientists have said that additional efforts would help them reach this by 2025 instead, which would vitally stop the world breaching the 1.5°C rise.
However, they’re not the only country at fault – major fossil fuel contributors including Russia and Saudi Arabia have also refused to increase their commitments. Concerns around the devotion of the new Japanese government also linger, while India was close to pledging to net zero last year, before the pandemic crisis took precedent.
What is so important about 1.5°C global warming?
Stopping climate change unfortunately isn’t a simple job. The industrialisation of our planet has led us down a dangerous path, where global temperature increases are having deadly effects on the environment.
A significant element of the Paris agreement was the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) being given the responsibility of analysing what global effects a 1.5°C global temperature rise would have, in comparison to a 2°C. Here’s what they found:
- By 2100, global sea level rise would be 10cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared to 2°C
- Coral reefs will decline by 70-90% if warming can be kept to 1.5°C, whereas virtually all of the Earth’s reefs will be lost if temperatures rise to 2°C
- At 1.5°C, extreme heatwaves will be experienced by 14% of the world’s population at least once every five years – at 2°C it would rise to more than a third of the planet
- 1.5°C would see Arctic sea ice remain most summers, whereas there is 10 times the chance of caps melting at 2°C. This would further the issues of habitat loss for polar bears, seals, sea birds and whales
Keeping the temperature increases to 1.5°C is a clear and pivotal requirement – but one that requires significant global cooperation. Every fraction of a degree increase puts us further at risk of irreversible damage to the planet.
What needs to be achieved from COP26?
Chiefly, a rewritten list of improved NDCs and addressing the postponed issues from COP25 would be a significant step forward. COP events aren’t always plain sailing – President of the event Alok Sharmer will be looking to avoid disaster cases like COP15 in Copenhagen, where a weak agreement was achieved, falling short of what Britain and many other countries were hoping to achieve.
To stay within 1.5C, global emissions need to come down by about 7% a year for this decade. Our most straightforward route to this is cutting down on the biggest contributors to the issue: agriculture and the burning of fossil fuels. The target for eliminating these almost completely needs to be 2050, while in the meantime beginning to help offset the effects of our current output by increasing our carbon sinks, such as wetlands (salt marshes, mangroves, sea beds), forestlands and peatlands. This would push us closer to net zero, however, the reabsorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is a slow process, meaning that COP26 must aim to find a quicker resolution than by 2050, to end the risk of pushing global warming to upwards of 1.5°C.
How is Low Carbon contributing to COP26?
At Low Carbon, we strive to make a significant and lasting impact on climate change in alignment with the Paris Climate Agreement. All our operations are driven by a desire to halt climate change and to help facilitate a future powered by renewable energy.
Biodiversity is vital to maintaining a healthy climate, and we recognise the potential it has to move us towards a safe, low carbon future. Across our UK-wide portfolio of renewable energy projects, we’re proud to champion the development of habitats supporting the biodiversity of habits and species: from meadows, hedgerows, wildflowers and woodland to sheep, bees, birds, bats, reptiles and invertebrates.
There will be a number of talks covering biodiversity at COP26, like:
- A Just Rural Transition towards sustainable agriculture and halting deforestation and conversation from agricultural commodities
- Working collaboratively to deliver for climate, nature and people” – 16:00 – 17:30 on November 6th.
For a full list of COP26 events, click here.
The terminology around environmental change, and COP events can often be confusing. Here is a checklist to help you quickly boost your knowledge.
This acronym stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a collaborative unit of nations cooperating to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”.
Nationally determined contributions – this is a set of agreed targets and input from each nation, working towards solving global warming and climate change. They’re renewed every 5 years, to ensure countries stay on track with climate saving solutions.
The Paris agreement was adopted by 196 countries of the UNFCCC in 2015, to set out the global framework for avoiding dangerous climate change – by limiting global (temperature warming to well below 2°C. It also aims to provide support for those most heavily affected by climate change / disasters.
Net zero (emissions) is a state where the global level of greenhouse gases emitted is equal to the amount removed from the atmosphere.