Why COP26 in Glasgow is our last chance to avoid climate chaos
Hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, the COP26 Climate Summit will be held in Glasgow between the 1st and 12th of November 2021. As the name implies, this is the 26th Climate Summit and it’s likely to be one of the most significant ever held– for good or bad depending on the outcome – as time is running out to save our future from the worst effects of climate breakdown.
COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and, every year since 1994, governments that signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, have been meeting at a different location around the world. The exception was 2020 when the Glasgow summit had to be postponed due to Coronavirus.
At each Summit, participants report on progress towards their climate goals and decide on how to move forward. It’s a fantastic opportunity for Heads of State, climate experts and campaigners to come together to agree on coordinated action to tackle the climate emergency. This year’s campaigns are focusing on five critical challenges: nature, finance, adaptation, transport and energy.
Why COP26 is such a significant event
Some COPs prove to be more important than others. At COP21 in 2015, for example, UNFCCC Secretary General Christiana Figueres persuaded countries around the world to sign up to a new framework of voluntary pledges to tackle the climate crisis known as the Paris Agreement.
COP26 is the first of five summits where governments will report on progress towards their initial pledges. In addition, as the sum of each country’s individual pledges doesn’t currently come near to delivering the target of reducing temperature rises to 1.5°C, governments will be asked to improve their pledges and make more demanding commitments. Closing this gap is crucial for reversing climate breakdown.
Now out of Europe, the UK is no longer bound by the EU’s joint NDC targets. The Government has already set out a new target for the UK of a 68% reduction in carbon emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2030. Campaigners want to push further as the target omits aviation and shipping.
As the host of COP26, the UK government has a fantastic opportunity to establish leadership in climate diplomacy. Former Business Secretary Alok Sharma has been appointed COP President and is backed by a team of advisors and negotiators including former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney. You can find out more on the COP26 website.
How COP26 will work
Without a doubt, Covid related concerns and restrictions will make this year’s summit a logistical nightmare for the organisers. It’s still not clear how much of it will happen in person and how much will be online.
Nevertheless, the official negotiation sessions will remain at the heart of the Summit and will cover different climate themes. Negotiations continue between summits and can roll on for years but each summit provides a useful focal point to help push forward new statements and commitments.
As is often the case with international talks, the actual process is laborious, slow and frustrating with texts shown on screen while negotiators discuss them line by line.
Alongside the official negotiations, a wide variety of side events take place. These are the most likely to be curtailed this year due to Covid. Normally thousands attend from the international climate world including non-governmental organisations (NGOs), research institutes, business groups, youth and faith representatives, campaigners and lobby groups.
What does COP26 mean for Sussex and for you?
COP26 will bring media and government (local and national) focus on climate action and many organisations across the UK and internationally will be working to make the most of this. BHESCo is no exception; we’ll be following the progress of the COP26 Energy Transition Council particularly closely.
The Council has been set up to accelerate the introduction of solutions to the technical, economic and social challenges of the transition to low carbon power systems. We are also supporting Community Energy England with their efforts to host an international community energy exhibition at COP26.
BHESCo’s experience shows that local community-based projects – such as low-carbon heat networks and community-funded energy projects – provide workable models that could be scaled up nationally to contribute to such solutions. We’re already demonstrating their benefits.