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All you need to know about COP26 to win the current affairs round at your next pub quiz

One of the most significant events that has the power to dictate the future health of our planet is happening right here in the UK, in Glasgow, in November. This year’s event is “widely thought of as the last chance for world leaders to commit to action on climate change before we reach the 2030 deadline” [1]. It’s COP26, but what is it all about, and why does it matter so much?

What is it?

COP26 is 2021’s edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, while 26 is the 26th meeting. These annual global summits bring member countries of the UN Climate Convention (UNFCCC) together to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and assess progress made in dealing with climate change. Following the creation of the UNFCCC in 1992, the first COP happened in Berlin in 1995.

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg speaking at COP24 in Poland (credit: Daniel Ivarsson/YouTube via Insider)

Why does it matter?

Alok Sharma (President for COP26) has declared “Paris promised, Glasgow must deliver” – but what’s meant by that? Paris hosted COP21 in 2015, and it was at this meeting that 196 countries adopted a legally binding international treaty on climate change, known as ‘The Paris Agreement’. This landmark agreement was the first time all countries were brought together under a common cause of climate commitment, with the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C and ideally to 1.5C.

1.5C has been identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Special Report as the “safe” upper-limit for global warming [2] in terms of the physical effects it will have in our environment. It would still result in a rising sea levels, the bleaching of coral reefs, and an increase in heatwaves, droughts, floods, fiercer storms and other forms of extreme weather, but these would be far less than the extremes associated with a rise of 2C. [3]

California wildfires: Thousands evacuated and hundreds of homes destroyed  as a dozen blazes rage | World News | Sky News
Increase in likelihood of extreme weather events, like the California wildfires pictured, is a result of climate crisis (credit: Sky News)

Right now, as a planet we’re not doing enough to limit this – Carbon Brief analysis from December 2020 states that “the world will likely exceed 1.5C between 2026 and 2042 in scenarios where emissions are not rapidly reduced, with a central estimate of between 2030 and 2032.” [4]

In 2021, COP26 is happening in the wake of an even further, worrying report from the IPCC that global warming is widespread, rapid, and intensifying, with many changes becoming “irreversible”. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called this report a “code red for humanity”. [5] Limiting it to 1.5C is still possible but will require drastic action. This is why the world will be watching expectantly as delegates meet in Glasgow to debate and discuss what this action looks like.

What’s the ideal outcome?

UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa has outlined the four key elements that will make COP26 a success in the eyes of the UN. These are;

1. Promises made to developing countries are kept, especially the pledge by developed nations to mobilize $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020.

2. Governments wrap up outstanding items and negotiations to fully implement the Paris Agreement.

3. Countries lower emissions and raise climate ambition, not only with regard to emission reductions, but also increasing ambition in adapting and building resilience to the impacts of climate change.

4. No voice or solution is left behind, through re-engaging with observers and Non-Party Stakeholders in a unity of purpose. [6]

For point 3, if the world is to stand a chance in limiting warming to 1.5C, global emissions must be halved by 2030 and reach ‘net-zero’ by 2050. In line with the Paris Agreement, each country has set ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDCs) which outline how much they will reduce their emissions and by when. So far, these collective contributions will not be enough to limit warming to even 2C, which is why every five years countries have to make fresh commitments. Therefore, for the first COP since the five years after Paris, one of the biggest hopes for Glasgow is that countries re-evaluate and re-submit more ambitious targets. [7]

Additionally, in practice, the UK presidency believes achieving these goals will rely on governments implementing regulations to move away from coal, protecting nature, and successfully (but belatedly) making the climate finance contributions outlined in point 1.

No COP out

Now more than ever, countries cannot cop out of acting (excuse the pun). Although government-mandated measures will go a long way, action from businesses, NGOs and individual citizens is urgently required. We’re proud to be taking climate action through our sustainable, flat wine bottles, which target the wine industry’s carbon footprint hotspot of round, glass bottles. The wine industry's carbon contribution may be relatively small on the world stage, but if there’s one thing that COPs show, it’s the importance of collective action. We’ll be keenly following the event over the next two weeks, and hope you’ll join us too!

Quick fire questions to ace your pub quiz:

1. Where is COP26 being held?

2. Who is the president of COP26?

3. Where was the first COP held?

4. What is the figure we need to limit global warming to?

5. What does NDC stand for?

Answers: 1. Glasgow, 2. Alok Sharma, 3. Berlin, 4. 1.5C, 5. Nationally Determined Contributions.

[1] https://www.discoverwildlife.com/news/what-is-cop26-and-why-is-it-important/

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-45678338

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/11/what-is-cop26-and-why-does-it-matter-the-complete-guide

[4] https://www.carbonbrief.org/analysis-when-might-the-world-exceed-1-5c-and-2c-of-global-warming

[5] https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097362

[6] https://unfccc.int/news/patricia-espinosa-outlines-the-four-keys-to-success-at-cop26

[7] https://www.chathamhouse.org/2021/09/what-cop26-and-why-it-important

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