What is COP26 and why is it important?

You know that COP26 thing you've seen in the news but don't actually understand? Well, prepare to get clued up. Here's everything you need to know.

It’s that time of the year again when everyone starts talking about this thing called COP” and you nod along, pretending to know exactly what it is, when really, you don’t. Fear not. Although most people may recognise it as the event Greta Thunberg once sailed a boat to, not many could tell you what it’s about in great detail either.

To avoid going red-faced at the pub, THE FACE has compiled a useful guide to the upcoming COP26 conference.

What is COP?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and it’s an event where heads of state, politicians, diplomats, journalists and activists meet to discuss all things related to global heating. They’re there to debate issues and set emissions targets to try to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis.

The COP summit is held by the United Nations and is attended by the 197 nations that have signed up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as of 2020.

Why is COP26 important?

This year’s conference feels particularly significant, as last year’s summit was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which exposed just how unequal current approaches to global catastrophes are. After the 2021 IPCC report, scientists warned that critical decisions have to be made ASAP in order for us to avoid the worst-case climate crisis scenario, because quite simply, we’re running out of time.

Where is COP26 being held this year and for how long?

COP26 is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland this year from 31st October to 12th November.

How many people will be attending COP26 this year?

More than 25,000 people are expected to arrive in Glasgow for the climate conference. However, there are concerns over accommodation capacity, as the city can only offer so many hotel suites and Airbnb’s. There are reportedly still over 3,000 people looking for somewhere to stay. And some Glasgow landlords are asking for as much as £36,000 to rent a flat for the duration of COP26.

Around 100,000 protesters are also expected to be on the streets of Glasgow for the Global Day For Climate Justice protest taking place on 6th November.

What is actually meant to happen during COP26?

The official COP26 agenda will cover all aspects of how the entire world should be tackling the climate crisis, with two days (1st-2nd November) dedicated to the World Leaders’ Summit, during which most goal-setting around emissions happens, and two days at the end of the conference (12th-13th November) to close negotiations. During the in-between period, there will also be specific days dedicated to youth and public empowerment (5th November), as well as discussions about adaptation, loss and damage caused by the climate crisis (8th November), the importance of gender equality (9th November), how to approach the crisis within urban cities (11th November) and many more vital issues.

How often are COPs held?

The first COP took place in 1995 in Berlin and, since then, they have usually been held annually.

The last COP, COP25, was held in Barcelona in 2019 and, due to the global pandemic, COP26 had to be postponed from November 2020 to November 2021.

Some activist groups are still calling to postpone this year’s conference, due to inaccessibility issues at this year’s event. Not only have COVID-19 travel regulations made it impossible for some countries’ delegates to travel to the UK, but the extortionate cost of accommodation has simply priced many of them out. Some activists on the ground fear that COP26 will be one of the least diverse yet.

Who is meant to be attending COP26?

Expect to see Boris Johnson, Nicola Sturgeon, Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Tayyip Erdoğan, Moon Jae-in, Nana Akufo-Addo, Muhammadu Buhari and many other world leaders at the summit. Some highly anticipated names, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, the world’s biggest greenhouse gases emitter, still haven’t confirmed their attendance.

Queen Elizabeth II will also be there, joined by some members of the royal family (although we’re not sure if Meghan or Harry will get the invite).

Other familiar names also include English broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

What Covid-19 precautions are in place for COP26?

Although the UK has offered to vaccinate all incoming delegates, no vaccines are required to fly to Glasgow. However, those attending will be asked to take Covid-19 tests every day. Those travelling from red list” countries will also have to quarantine upon arrival.

Does anything actually get done at COPs?

Most criticism of these conferences is that they’re all talk and no walk, and are just an excuse for the global elites to gather together. Yet, COP summits have been responsible for the formation of two important climate agreements in the past: the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and the Paris Agreement of 2015 (the legally binding international treaty on climate change to limit the global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius).

Are there any events happening outside of the official conference?

Yes, there are going to be many groups that will host fringe events outside the main conference. Look out for the COP26 Coalition, who are mobilising around climate justice during COP26. Their coalition members include environment and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks”. They will also be hosting their own People’s Summit’ from 7th-10th November.

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