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What is COP26?

What is COP26? 29 October 2021

Take it back a step… What is COP26?

COP26 is the 2021 edition of the United Nations annual climate change conference. COP stands for Conference of the Parties. Every year, world leaders meet to make important decisions about how humanity tackles the climate crisis. In November, the UK will host this year’s meeting in Glasgow. COP26 will be a decisive moment – climate change is a clear and present danger to all people and our planet. The real–world consequences of rising temperatures are already all too visible.

COP26 is the biggest summit the UK has ever hosted and is the most significant climate event since COP21, the 2015 United Nations climate conference which resulted in the Paris Agreement.

The UK – Between 1990 and 2019, the UK’s economy grew by 78% while emissions fell by 44%, the fastest reduction in the G7. The Prime Minister has launched the Green Ten Point Plan – which sets the UK on the path to a greener, more prosperous future, mobilising £12 billion of government investment to create up to 250,000 highly–skilled green jobs and spur over £40 billion in investment from the private sector into the UK. The UK has committed to reducing emissions by at least 68% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

The UK have set a high bar for other countries to follow. The COP26 Summit is the moment for other nations to come forward with ambitious plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The importance of the Paris Agreement

COP21 took place in Paris in 2015.  For the first time ever, something momentous happened: every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate and to make money available to deliver on these aims. 

The Paris Agreement was born. The commitment to aim for 1.5 degrees below pre–industrial levels is important because every fraction of a degree of warming will result in the loss of many more lives lost and livelihoods damaged.

Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to bring forward national plans setting out how much they would reduce their emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’. 

They agreed that every five years they would come back with an updated plan that would reflect their highest possible ambition at that time. 

How far do we have to go?

Temperatures around the world are already at around 1.2 degrees above pre–industrial levels. Emissions may have plunged during Covid lockdowns last year, but they have surged again since as economies have recovered. 

COP26 Jargon Buster

NDCs – Nationally Determined Contributions are national plans containing targets on emissions cuts, usually pledged to 2030.

Net Zero – Reducing greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and then offsetting any remaining irreducible emissions by fostering carbon sinks, such as forests.

Mitigation – Reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation – Preparing for the impacts from climate change that is already locked in (the earth has already warmed by 1.1–1.2C and some of the impacts of this warming are irreversible).

SLCPs – Short–lived climate pollutants. These are compounds that degrade or fall out of the atmosphere more quickly than carbon dioxide such as methane and soot.


Visit the COP26 website for more information.

Some of the above information is adapted from the Independent and the Guardian.