COP stands for Conference of the Parties. The next conference will be the 26th. Hence COP26.
It is a confusing and unhelpful title for something so crucial. But it is a term in constant use by the media, politicians, and campaigners.
The conference is the world’s most important meeting on climate change, bringing together the most powerful and influential people on the planet each year.
And this year, for the first time, the conference is going to be held in the UK. Glasgow will be the host city for the next summit, to be held over two weeks in November after a one-year delay because of the pandemic.
COP26 will be unique in making the leaders of almost every country on Earth work together to fix the climate crisis. Everyone from US president Joe Biden to China’s head of state, Xi Jinping, will be in attendance. And while the debate and discussion might seem technical, there is a real possibility the end result will be a dramatic and historic agreement.
What gets discussed and agreed?
A clear example of the importance of these summits is COP21, hosted by Paris in 2015, and which led to the ‘Paris Agreement’. This international treaty committed 196 countries to keep global average temperatures to “well below 2C” – a safe level which allows plants, animals and humans to thrive. What this means is a commitment to cut dangerous, climate-wrecking pollutants from our everyday lives. It means we have to shift away from oil, gas, and coal as the most widespread fuels we use in everything from cars to cooking.
The climate crisis isn’t something we need to fix for future generations; it is already affecting children, parents, and grandparents, and will continue to do so.
What progress has been made since past COPs?
Fast-forward six years and the world hasn’t done enough to make the promise of Paris a reality. There remain many unresolved issues, from how to help poorer countries cut emissions to adapting to the impacts of climate change. Progress has been slow in removing fossil fuels from our energy mix. But scientists have repeated the same message since the Paris Agreement was signed: human beings are destroying the planet and the impacts are clear. The most recent warning came this month when the UN’s group of top climate scientists said it was “code red for humanity” and that our damaging impact on the environment was unmistakable.
What has changed for this conference?
One of the things which has changed in recent years is the speed and regularity of extreme weather. This has astonished many scientists as it has ordinary people who have suffered the consequences of record-high flooding in Germany, extreme drought in Madagascar, or unbearable heat in Canada. The climate crisis isn’t something we need to fix for future generations; it is already affecting children, parents, and grandparents, and will continue to do so.
The delayed Glasgow conference offers the world an opportunity to get back on track. The warning signs are serious, and time is not on our side. But we already know how to solve the problem: clean technologies which were once untested or too expensive have become mainstream. And more countries have signed up to setting “net zero” targets, going much further than simply reducing emissions, but getting rid of them altogether.
COP26 comes at a crucial time for the future health of the planet and its inhabitants. Whatever is agreed in Glasgow will be felt for many years to come.