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What is COP26 in Glasgow, when is it happening and what work will be done by the United Nations to tackle climate change?

World leaders are preparing to meet in the UK this autumn to discuss one of the biggest challenges, if not the biggest, currently facing our planet - climate change.

COP26, the UN climate change conference, begins at the end of October. But what is it, why is it happening and can it possibly unite the world to tackle its problems?

COP26 will bring together nations signed up to tackling climate change
COP26 will bring together nations signed up to tackling climate change

What is COP26

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and will be attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Covention on Climate Change, a treaty agreed back in 1994.

This means that leaders and representatives from more than 100 nations will be sitting around the table over almost a fortnight, in various talks, conferences and exchanges, to reach an agreement on how as a global nation we can best work together to halt the damage being done to the planet. The event is called COP26 because it is the 26th meeting of the COP to be held.

When and where is it happening?

COP26 should have been held last year, but as a result of the global pandemic the entire conference was postponed. It will now begin in Glasgow on October 31 and takes place until November 12.

It is being hosted by the UK and Boris Johnson, in partnership with Italy, and most delegates are expected to attend in person. Coronavirus vaccines have been offered, particularly to poorer nations, to enable as many representatives to travel and attend as safely as possible.

The Prime Minister said: “Securing a brighter future for our children and future generations requires countries to take urgent action at home and abroad to turn the tide on climate change. It is with ambition, courage and collaboration as we approach the crucial COP26 summit in the UK that we can seize this moment together, so we can recover cleaner, rebuild greener and restore our planet."

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg
Climate change activist Greta Thunberg

When was the last COP meeting?

The last big summit - COP25 - was held in Madrid, Spain in 2019 when young climate activist Greta Thunberg made a huge speech. At that meeting an agreement was formulated to cut carbon emissions around the world, and each nation came up with plans to cut emissions in their own country by the time that the next conference took place, but that work and focus has been delayed somewhat as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic.

It is not yet clear whether the young activist will come to Glasgow.

The Paris Agreement was first drawn up at COP21 in 2015
The Paris Agreement was first drawn up at COP21 in 2015

What is the Paris Agreement or Paris Rulebook?

If you read information on the global approach to climate change, the Paris Agreement or Paris Rulebook will be mentioned a lot. This was a binding single agreement drawn up at COP21, that took place in Paris in 2015, to unite nations in the fight against climate change.

At that meeting world leaders made commitments to reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gasses produced and increase renewable types of energy like wind, solar or wave power, work to keeping the global temperature increase to 'well below' 2C, to spend more money helping poorer countries by 2020 and to review all of that progress every five years. And so while it has been delayed because of Covid19, world leaders will begin assessing in Glasgow how successful those promises made five years ago have been.

But the Paris Agreement did hit another stumbling block in 2020 when then President of the USA Donald Trump pulled his country out of the legally binding international treaty. However the country rejoined earlier this year when Democrat Joe Biden became President.

However it is now widely accepted that the agreement reached in Paris six years ago, will not be enough to halt the damage steadily being done to the planet, and that more action will be required and faster.

In the UK's guide to this year's conference the problem is explained. It reads: "The run up to this year’s summit in Glasgow is the moment (delayed by a year due to the pandemic) when countries update their plans for reducing emissions. But, the commitments laid out in Paris did not come close to limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees, and the window for achieving this is closing.

"The decade out to 2030 will be crucial. So as momentous as Paris was, countries must go much further to keep the hope of holding temperature rises to 1.5 degrees alive."

Countries will be expected to put forward 'ambitious' targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2030
Countries will be expected to put forward 'ambitious' targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2030

So what can be done at COP26?

A significant part of this year's conference will be dedicated to discussing targets for limiting global warming. The world is not yet on track to limit that rise to 1.5C and while there has been progress to 'bend' that temperature curve more effort is required to instigate a global effort to slow this rise in temperature down over the next nine to 10 years.

Countries will be expected to put forward 'ambitious' targets for reducing carbon emissions by 2030. In order to meet them it is felt countries will need to speed-up phasing out coal, invest further in renewable energies, curtail deforestation and speed up the switch to electric vehicles.

Countries affected by climate change will also be 'encouraged' to restore ecosystems, build defences and make infrastructure and agriculture more resilient to prevent losses of homes and livelihoods.

At COP26 it is expected the Paris Rulebook will be finalised, these are the rules and guidelines going to be needed to achieve the original targets set out in the Paris Agreement. But the message is clear - an agreement needs to be reached by all countries in order to accelerate efforts and meet climate goals sooner.

The UK is currently the biggest producer of offshore wind power
The UK is currently the biggest producer of offshore wind power

What is the UK doing?

The government says the UK 'has a lot to be proud of' when it comes to addressing climate change - for example, currently being the largest produce of offshore wind in the world.

Ministers are also determined to prove that economic growth and reducing carbon emissions can go hand-in-hand over the next few years as the country attempts to recover from the pandemic.
Among the policies and goals currently in place is a law that the UK will reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, that it will double international climate finance to help support developing nations over the next five years, there are plans to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and as a country we will spend at least £3bn of our international climate funds on nature and nature-based solutions.

There are also commitments to plant trees on 30,000 hectares of land per year by 2025, to put farmers at the forefront of work to reduce environmental decline and to increase the number of 'green jobs' in the low carbon sector from around 460,000 currently to two million over the coming decade.

You can read more about COP26 and its goals by clicking here.

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