Fact file

What is Cop26 and what could be achieved?

Delegates expected to land in Scotland in matter of weeks amid concerns about vaccine rollout

With less than six weeks to go until Glasgow hosts the United Nations Climate Change Conference, Boris Johnson will tell world leaders in the US today that Cop26 must be a “turning point for humanity”. 

The Cop26 summit, which was scheduled to take place last year but delayed due to the pandemic, will bring together the signatories of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty agreed in 1994.

The last conference, Cop25, was held in Madrid in November 2019, with Greta Thunberg's arrival bringing more attention to the event. While it was hoped that the meeting would “finalise the rulebook of the Paris Agreement”, the talks were “unable to reach consensus in many areas”, noted environmental news website CarbonBrief.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres said at the time that he was “disappointed” with the results, adding: “The international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.”

The UK government is hoping that Cop26, held from 31 October to 12 November, will have a better outcome.

What is the aim of this year’s conference?

Much of this year’s climate conference will centre on delivering goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, as well as moving the UN Climate Change process forward. 

The conference is “being viewed as the successor to Cop21”, the conference at which the agreement was signed, Euronews reported. The summit will be used to “both address what has and hasn’t been achieved since 2015, while also setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets”. 

One of the key aims of the Paris Agreement was to limit global warming to between 1.5C and 2C by mid-century. The success of this goal, and others agreed in the deal, is dependent on all countries committing to “reaching net-zero emissions as soon as possible, and to significant further cuts by 2030”, according to a government report briefing in the run-up to Cop26.

The publication of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last month has further heightened the importance of the summit’s success. More than 230 researchers estimated that global temperatures are likely to rise by 1.5C over the next 20 years, far exceeding the commitments made in 2015. Cop26 President Alok Sharma told The Guardian that the report was a “wake up call for the world” on climate but stressed that “the very worst of climate change is still avoidable”. 

“We need to make sure that at Cop26 we are able to credibly say we have kept 1.5C alive,” he continued, with action required “this year”.

It’s hoped that the summit will achieve these four aims:

  • To mitigate the worst effects of climate change, countries will present their ambitious targets on reducing emissions by 2030, in line with the aim to meet net-zero by 2050. These plans will include accelerating the phase-out of coal burning and encouraging further investment in renewable energy.
  • An agreement will be reached on adapting in order to protect ecosystems, and enabling countries impacted by climate change to build resilient infrastructure to avoid the loss of lives, livelihoods and homes.
  • Developed countries are to follow through on their promise to mobilise $100bn (£73bn) in climate finance annually in order to support developing countries and secure the global net-zero goal.
  • Accelerate collaborative action between governments, societies and businesses against climate change.
Who will be attending?

Every member of the UN is a signatory to the UNFCCC, as well as Palestine, the Cook Islands and Niue. This effectively means that every nation, country or state in the world is involved, making a total of 197 signatory parties. It was expected that the leaders of all signatories would join the summit, as well as roughly 20,000 accredited delegates.

However, Sharma admitted this week that he couldn’t confirm whether President Xi Jinping will attend. The news casts further doubts over whether China will cooperate on the summit’s aims, which could serve a severe blow to the UK’s hopes for a positive outcome. This week, Xi did, however, commit to stop building new coal-fired power projects abroad.

The Queen will be one of the high-profile attendees, and it is also expected that Pope Francis, David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg will join the summit, the BBC reported. Teenage activist Thunberg tweeted in April that she “would love to attend” Cop26, so long as “everyone can take part on the same terms”, referring to inequalities in the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines.

At the G7 summit in June, Johnson said the UK would work to provide all unvaccinated Cop26 delegates with jabs before Cop26 to ensure they could attend. However, Climate Home News reported that “as of 1 September, no vaccines had been delivered by the UK government”. 

A spokesperson for the conference confirmed that first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be administered by mid-September, with the second in mid-October, Sky News reported. But “many remain concerned about inclusivity at the climate talk” should representatives from the global south not be in attendance.

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