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COP26 – Joining together to tackle the climate crisis

By Practical Action On 26.04.2021 Climate changeCOPBlog

The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP) is the world’s most significant summit on climate change. In 2021, the conference will be hosted in the UK. In this article, you can find out more about COP26, why it’s so important and how Practical Action’s official observer status is an opportunity to amplify the voices of the communities we work with.

What is COP26?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties. The event is a global United Nations summit about climate change and how countries are planning to tackle it.

The 2021 conference will be the 26th COP summit, which is why it’s called COP26.

COP26 will be hosted in partnership between the UK and Italy and will take place in Glasgow from 1 and 12 November 2021. It’s been delayed for a year because of COVID-19.

The conference will be attended by representatives of the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994.

What happened at the last COP?

The last COP was held in Madrid, Spain, in November 2019. Much of the media coverage focused on campaigner Greta Thunberg’s speech. Greta urged politicians to act with more urgency to tackle climate change.

When the COP meeting in Madrid ended, there was criticism that many important issues remained unresolved. These included carbon offsetting and financial assistance for countries in the Global South.

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said he was “disappointed” by how little was achieved at COP25. Others went so far as to call the conference a failure.

However, an agreement was made about cutting carbon dioxide, with each nation agreeing to make a plan to cut their carbon emissions by the next conference in Glasgow.

Why is COP26 important?

COP26 will be biggest summit ever hosted in the UK, with around 30,000 attendees expected. It’s been described by climate change experts as the most significant climate event since the 2015 Paris Agreement. That’s because COP26 is the first moment when countries must report back on their progress since the Paris Agreement and set out more ambitious goals for ending their contribution to climate change.

What is the Paris agreement?

The Paris Agreement is a significant international agreement to tackle climate change. It was agreed by the leaders of 195 countries in 2015, at COP21 in Paris.

It says nations must:

  • Reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gasses they produce and increase the amount of renewable energy, such as wind, solar and wave power.
  • Keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C and try to limit it to 1.5C.
  • Spend US $100 billion a year in climate finance to help developing countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.
  • Review progress made on the agreement every five years.

Exactly how these goals should be achieved and monitored has never been fully agreed.

What pledges has the UK made since the last COP?

The UK government declared 2020 a “Year of Climate Action”.

It has set targets for changing to electric cars and has pledged to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions to “net zero” – which means releasing virtually no carbon – by 2050.

To achieve this, emissions from areas like transport, farming and industry will have to be either eliminated or offset.

What’s Practical Action’s role in COP26?

We’ve been granted official observer status at the UN Climate Talks in Glasgow. Our staff will attend the negotiations to amplify the voices of the communities we work with, many of whom are living on the front line of climate change.

We’ll also support delegates from the Global South with our expertise and evidence of the loss and damage caused by climate change in their countries.

Colin McQuistan, our head of climate and resilience, says: “Gaining this status is incredibly important as it enables us to represent the people who are struggling to cope with climate change.

“These talks will shape the world’s response to what is still our biggest challenge and provide a negotiating space shared by the smallest, the least developed with countries like the United States, Russia and China.”

Colin McQuistan, Head of Climate and Resilience at Practical Action

What are the major challenges for less developed countries at COP?

It’s not a level playing field. Countries with the most power and wealth have far more delegates, experience and capacity to put forward their point of view.

That’s why one of our major roles is to balance things out by making sure voices from the Global South are heard. Our team will be on hand to listen to the negotiations and to help delegates from less developed nations provide research, evidence, examples and testimony to show the impact of climate change on their populations.

As Colin says: “With our help they will be able to challenge the most polluting countries more effectively so they can take responsibility for their role in man-made climate change.”

What is Practical Action hoping to achieve at COP26?

We’ll be calling for agreement on specific targets and commitments on the following:

  • More mitigation – deep decarbonisation to limit future global temperature rise to 1.5°C
  • Better adaptation – locking in action that enables the most vulnerable communities to adapt to current climate change, and prepare for future change. With at least 50% of climate finance dedicated to adaptation for communities on the frontline of the climate crisis, the majority flowing as grants and not loans.
  • Nature based solutions – included within all climate plans at an ambitious level to protect remaining primary ecosystems, and restore degraded land including forests and wetlands. Coupled with mainstreaming of sustainable land management for the future.
  • Climate finance in line with the scale of the need – at least $200bn of finance committed to mitigation, adaptation, and the irreversible changes that have already occurred.
  • Loss and damage – a new climate finance mechanism mobilising at least $75bn by 2023, to support the urgent and growing need of many countries where irreversible climate impacts have already occurred and people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, face losing everything.

How can I keep up-to-date with the latest COP news?

Follow our journey to COP26 and beyond on LinkedIn and Twitter. You’ll also learn more about our work around the world, helping people living on the front line of the climate crisis adapt and succeed.