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Why COP26 matters to us all

What will happen at COP26?

COP26, which takes place in Glasgow this November, brings the governments of countries from all over the world together to try and agree plans to address climate change.

At its heart is an inter-governmental conference at which world leaders will try to find agreement on ways to avert environmental catastrophe. Formerly, it is the 26th Conference Of The Parties, of those countries that signed up to 1994’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It should have taken place in 2020, but was postponed because of the covid pandemic.

It will take place at Glasgow’s SEC conference centre. Also there will be climate experts and NGO representatives, as well as a program of events in which the public can participate.

It could be a defining moment in the fight to lower global temperatures and prevent irreversible climate disaster, as previous COP editions have been. COP3, for example, delivered the Koyoto Protocol. COP15 produced the renewed Paris accord in which China and the US agreed to work together to reduce emissions.

The conference is headed by Alok Sharma MP, who represents Reading West in Parliament, and retains a seat in the cabinet. He was previously International Development Secretary and Business Secretary in Boris Johnson’s government.

What is the goal of COP26?

Sharma is hoping that countries can be persuaded to commit  bold long and short-term plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions before it’s too late. Commitments are already in place to reach net zero emissions by 2050. 

COP26 is intended to extend the achievements of the Paris Agreement, signed in 2015, a legally binding treaty setting out a framework to keep the rise in global temperature below two degrees centigrade, with eyes on a one-point-five degrees centigrade limit. That agreement also laid out plans to protect ecosystems and help countries — particularly those most immediately at risk from the effects of climate change, adapt to the impacts of global warming. Progress made to date will be another subject for discussion.

Topics at COP26?

The summit’s focus is the wellbeing of the planet and of people – meaning cutting fossil fuels, reducing air pollution and improving health worldwide. It will also consider phasing out coal worldwide and ending deforestation.

Does COP26 matter?

Scientific evidence shows that tackling climate crisis is an immediate priority. COP26 convenes world powers in one place to set plans for action at what is the most critical time in the climate crisis yet.

It will also be the first time since the Paris Agreements that the countries can discuss progress and hopefully set ambitious plans accordingly. It’s thought many countries could bring forward their net-zero targets — bringing down emissions so that the amount produced is cancelled out by the amount prevented from entering the atmosphere — from 2050 to 2030.

Allegra Stratton, spokesperson for COP26, has encouraged the public to limit their impact on the environment with “micro-steps” such as not rinsing their dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.

Image: Glasgow SEC “Armadillo” by Alan Weir is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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