The most important UN Climate Conference since Paris in 2015, the world is waiting with bated breath to see whether, this time, the delegates will agree on a set of controls binding all countries to adhere to carbon reduction commitments.


The most important UN Climate Conference since Paris in 2015, the world is waiting with bated breath to see whether, this time, the delegates will agree on a set of controls binding all countries to adhere to carbon reduction commitments.


What have COPs Achieved in the Past?

To gain a better understanding of how important UN Climate Change Conferences are, you only need to look back to COP21, which took place in Paris in 2015. For the first time in history, all countries agreed to work together to fight global warming by limiting the global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to keep it to 1.5ºC. Governments also agreed that global emissions needed to peak as soon as possible and committed to rapid reductions thereafter, relying on science and technology to strike the right balance between emissions and removals in the second half of the current century. Sadly, the commitments agreed to in 2015 did not achieve their intended target and the window to do so is closing. This year’s summit will hopefully see countries making stronger commitments to align closer to their original aims.

What are the Aims of COP26?

The upcoming conference has the following declared objectives:
To secure global net-zero by 2050 and keep the 1.5ºC aim within reach.

This goal will involve accelerating the phase-out of coal, curtailing deforestation, accelerating the switch to electric vehicles, and encouraging investment in renewable energies.

To make necessary adaptations to protect communities and habitats.
Countries affected by climate change must work to protect and restore affected ecosystems and build resilient infrastructure, agricultural systems, and warning systems to stop the loss of homes, jobs, and lives.

To ensure that developed countries fulfil their promise of raising at least $100 billion in climate finance by a fixed date.
To finalise the detailed controls that will make the Paris Agreement operational and accelerate change via the collaboration of businesses, governments, and everyday people.

What’s in Half a Degree?

If you wondered what difference half a degree could make, consider that the Planet’s future and countless lives and livelihoods depend on it. The COP26 organisers explain that: “At 2ºC of global warming, there would be widespread and severe impacts on people and nature. A third of the world’s population would be regularly exposed to severe heat, leading to health problems and more heat-related deaths.” Almost the totality of the world’s warm-water coral reefs would die, the Arctic sea ice would melt completely at least one summer every decade, and wildlife and local communities would sustain untold losses. At 1.5ºC, the impact would still be serious but there would be a significantly lower chance of food and water shortages, economic devastation, and extinction of species. The health threats posed by heat (including disease, malnutrition, and pollution) would also be considerably less.

Who Will Be There?

Over 190 world leaders will be taking a seat at COP26. There, they will meet tens of thousands of government officials, entrepreneurs, negotiators, and citizens while attending 12 days of talks and discussions.

Environmental Disasters are the World’s Biggest Risks

The World Economic Forum recently published a survey indicating that the top five risks (as stated by some of the world’s most influential companies and people) faced by the world are all environmental. These risks are:

Extreme weather events (which could affect infrastructure and property and endanger human lives).

The failure to adapt to climate change by governments and businesses.

Human-caused environmental damage such as oil spills and radioactive communication.

The loss of biodiversity and ecosystems (which in turn will make communities and businesses more vulnerable).

Natural disasters (including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and geomagnetic storms).

Climate Change Cannot Be Ignored

Climate change is undoubtedly one of the most pressing problems faced by human beings. Across the globe, storms, floods, and wildfires are intensifying in number and severity. Natural disasters cause untold damage to the lives of people and animals and air pollution is causing health problems for tens of millions of people. As it stands, warming will reach well above 3ºC by the year 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. Forests, which play a vital role in removing carbon from the air, are one of the ecosystems suffering the most. Currently, we are losing them at the rate of a football pitch every few seconds.

It’s Not All Doom and Gloom

We may not be achieving set targets but we are definitely taking steps to make them more achievable. As stated by Elizabeth Wathuti, Global South Co-Chair of the COP26 Civil Society, nations are working on new aims like ‘building back better’. These programs are seeing countries, businesses, and investors committing to decarbonisation by 2030 or 2050. Significant progress is being made. For instance, around 70 per cent of the world’s economy is now committed to achieving net-zero emissions. More than 80 countries have formally updated their national climate plans, and all G7 countries have announced new targets that will enable them to achieve their net-zero aims by 2050. There are many incentives to do so, since solar and wind energy are now cheaper than new coal and gas power plants in two-thirds of the world’s countries.

National Adaptation

Plans Are Key
Covid-19 has taken its toll on many world economies, worsening the circumstances of those who are already at the greatest risk of climate change. One way to improve their resilience is to protect and restore natural habitats. The UN has requested all countries to produce an Adaptation Communication – a list of the actions they plan to take to adapt to the impacts of climate change. This list will help countries share best practices, resources, and technologies. Currently, over 20 countries have formed a group called the Adaptation Action Coalition. The latter comprises investors, businesses, cities, and regions. Over 40 countries and organisations, meanwhile, have joined the Risk-Informed Early Action Partnership, whose aim is to protect one billion people against disasters by 2025.

Is it Too Late to Save the Planet?

According to NASA, although many human actions to date are irreversible, if we don’t aim to reduce our emissions, the global temperature will rise by 2.5 °C to 4.5 °C (4.5 °F to 8 °F) by 2100. It is not too late to reduce the worst effects of climate change. There are two main steps involved in doing so: mitigation (reducing the level of greenhouse emissions) and adaptation (learning to live with and adapt to climate change). Whether or not we achieve this aim depends on our ability to curb CO2 and other emissions quickly and decisively.

The Need for a Shifting Global Economy

As stated by Mark Carney, the British PM’s Finance Adviser for COP26, “To deliver on the Paris Agreement the whole global economy needs to shift. Companies, banks, insurers and investors all have to adjust their business models and develop credible plans for the transition to a net-zero economy and implement them.” Carney recently launched the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net-Zero (GFANZ) alongside the UN High-Level Climate Change Champions. This group comprises over 160 firms, which together boast assets of over $70 trillion. The Alliance seeks to make the financial sector a leader in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The initiatives they establish must be accredited by the Race to Zero (i.e. they must use science-based guidelines to accomplish their aims and set interim targets to be realised by 2030).

The financial sector is achieving things that other industries should aspire to. For instance, the OECD estimates that this sector mobilised $78.9 billion in 2018. Moreover, around $41.5 billion were provided to developing countries in 2019, according to estimates from multilateral development banks. In addition to helping third parties, financial institutions are also testing their own resilience. Some 17 central banks have agreed to stress-test their financial system against global warming risks.

Join Race to Zero

If you are a business, educational institution, city, or region, you can do your share by joining Race to Zero – known as ‘the world’s largest net-zero alliance.” The group currently has over 3,800 members (representing 15 per cent of the global economy), 21 per cent of the world’s largest companies, and one billion people. They are all committed to halving their emissions by 2030 and achieving their net-zero goal by 2050 at the latest.

Entering the Green Zone

COP26 will be divided into two zones: a Blue Zone (for registered attendees who are part of a national delegation or approved organisation or agency, or who work for the United Nations) and a Green Zone (for members of the general public). There will be a wide array of events, ranging from workshops to art exhibitions, installations, technological demonstrations, musical performances, and more.