What is COP26? Your guide to the UN climate change conference 2021

This guide provides a brief overview of the 26th United Nations’ climate change conference taking place in Glasgow at the end of 2021, including what it is, what to expect and why are you should be paying attention.


What is COP26?

COP26 is shorthand for the 26th Conference of the Parties, an annual gathering of the 197 party members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference is a gathering of climate experts, policymakers and other world leaders who will be attending to debate on how best to avoid the negative effects of climate change. 

Around 30,000 people in total are estimated to be travelling to Glasgow for COP26


Why is COP26 important?

COP26 represents the first chance for attending countries to update the world on their progress towards the Paris agreement goals they first set out in 2015 during COP21. 

As part of this agreement, 191 countries formally joined the Paris agreement and committed to limiting global warming to below 2° – aiming to limit it to 1.5° * – along with agreeing to provide an update of the emissions reduction activity every fifth summit. That’s why COP26 is so important as it provides this opportunity for countries to update on their emissions reduction activities and update on how far along each country is in achieving its net zero targets. 

The 26th edition of the conference will be held in Scotland, at Glasgow‘s Scottish Event campus. It was originally scheduled to be held in 2020 but, due to the coronavirus pandemic, was subsequently postponed.

*Scientists predict a temperature rise above this target would significantly increase the damaging effects of global warming.


What is net zero?

Net zero in its simplest term refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. It’s a bit like taking a bath – if you turn the taps on more water is added. But pull the plug out and water flows out. The amount of water in the bath depends on both the amount inputted from the taps and the amount lost via the plughole. To make sure the amount of water in the bath is kept at the same level you need to make sure that the input and the output are in balance.  We achieve net zero when the amount we add is no more than the amount taken away.

Gross zero would mean stopping all emissions entirely, which isn’t realistically achievable across all aspects of our lives and all sectors of industry. Net zero considers overall emissions, allowing for the removal of any unavoidable emissions such as those from aviation or manufacturing. While these can be reduced to a certain extent, there will always be some level of emission remaining.

Removing greenhouse gases could be via nature (because trees extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere), through changing industrial processes or through new technological breakthroughs that capture and remove emissions.


Why is net zero important? 

Scientists widely acknowledge that climate change is being triggered by increased levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The name comes from the greenhouse effect they create by warming the surface temperature of the Earth and the air above it. This is caused by gases that trap energy from the Sun. The most common greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide is the most dangerous and abundant of the greenhouse gases, hence why cutting carbon emissions, reducing carbon footprints or seeking low carbon alternatives are suggested as the best ways to address climate change. Committing to achieving Net Zero is therefore important for countries, governments and organisations as being the best way to tackle climate change and reducing global warming.


What are the goals of COP26?

A recent United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change report (IPCCC), highlighted a lack of sufficient action from political leaders across the world to combat climate change, warning that many changes were now irreversible and a 1.5° temperature target would be exceeded unless action was taken immediately.

COP26 is therefore considered one of the final opportunities for the world to find a way to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

The four key goals of cop 26 are:

  • To secure global net zero by 2050 keeping the 1.5° global warming limit within reach
  • Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats around the world to improve their resilience against climate change
  • To mobilise finance through developed countries delivering on the promise to raise $100 billion in climate finance per year to support developing nations
  • To work together to agree on, deliver and rise to the challenges of climate change


Who will be attending COP26?

All countries and territories that have signed up to the UNFCCC Treaty (an international agreement to combat climate change) will be attending COP26. Around 30,000 people in total are estimated to be travelling to Glasgow for COP26, as representatives of more than 200 countries, along with business leaders, climate experts, non-governmental organisations and other faith groups. 

Some of the high-profile guests due to attend include Pope Francis and Queen Elizabeth II.

For further information on COP26 along with details of speakers and organised events around the summit, please visit https://ukcop26.org/ 



All information quoted is obtained from sources which we believe to be accurate at the time of publication, but may be subject to change. We therefore cannot be held responsible for the implications of relying on this information.