What is Cop26? The crucial Glasgow climate change summit and why it matters

Meeting of global leaders described as last chance of avoiding global catastrophe

An environmental activist holds a sign that reads "Stop Coal!" Fossil fuels will feature high on the Cop26 agenda in Glasgow. Getty.
An environmental activist holds a sign that reads "Stop Coal!" Fossil fuels will feature high on the Cop26 agenda in Glasgow. Getty.

The UK will host the UN Climate Change Conference (Cop26) summit in November, where world leaders will gather to discuss steps to achieve a zero-carbon future by 2050.

Taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, the meeting was described by summit president Alok Sharma as humanity’s "last hope" of avoiding catastrophe from climate change.

With the key climate talks still six months away, its outcome seems certain to have a profound impact on generations to come.

Here’s what to expect:

What is Cop26 and where will it be held?

This is the first time the UK has been given presidency of the Conference of Parties – known as Cop – a decision-making body responsible for monitoring the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The event is being held at the SEC in Glasgow from November 1 to 12, after last year's scheduled summit was cancelled because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

It is hoped coronavirus restrictions will be eased enough to allow in-person meetings, but if not, proceedings will be moved online.

An environmental activist holds a sign that reads "Stop Coal!" Fossil fuels will feature high on the Cop26 agenda in Glasgow. Getty.
An environmental activist holds a sign that reads "Stop Coal!" Fossil fuels will feature high on the Cop26 agenda in Glasgow. Getty.

What will be discussed?

Under the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, 197 signatory countries agreed to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and cut fossil fuel emissions to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Discussions will address three main aims: reducing emissions, strengthening efforts to combat climate change and mobilising financial support.

Who will be there?

An estimated 30,000 delegates – including climate experts, campaigners and policy makers – will meet for discussions, if Cop26 goes ahead as a physical event.

In addition, thousands of people are expected to attend side events in the "green zone", where NGOs and national representatives will meet.

In attendance will be broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough, who will address world leaders as the Cop26 People's Advocate.

However, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said she will not attend, in protest over poorer countries' lack of access to Covid-19 vaccines for poorer countries.

Why does it matter?

Policymakers say this is a potentially pivotal moment in which to get climate change under control before it is too late.

For the first time, countries will be required to outline realistic targets to achieve a cleaner future, such as phasing out coal, curtailing deforestation and switching to electric vehicles.

It is also the first summit since US President Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Paris climate accord.

Much of the pressure will be on China, by far the world’s leading polluter, to take action to reduce its carbon footprint.

How are leaders preparing?

Last month, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Mr Biden's vow to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 as "a game changer".

The UK pledged to cut carbon emissions by 78 per cent by 2035, compared to 1990 levels.

Preliminary discussions will be held on June 11, when a G7 summit focusing on climate change will be chaired by Mr Johnson in Cornwall, south-west England.

Updated: May 15, 2021 05:04 PM

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