COP26: How the UN Climate Change Conference

is uniting the world to tackle climate change

September 16, 2021

IMAGE: UK Government / Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.

As devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has been—and continues to be—it’s not the greatest challenge we face.


Our biggest threat is climate change.


Around the world, we’re seeing more widespread and frequent extreme weather events that destroy homes and livelihoods, while research increasingly proves that pollution

has severe effects on our health.


While great strides have been made in tackling these issues, progress is too slow and too regional. The world needs to come together now to avert the climate crisis. This makes the next COP— Conference of the Parties, a global climate summit initiated by the UN—more important than ever.


COP26 will be hosted by the UK, partnering with Italy, in November, welcoming 190 world leaders to Glasgow.


Our Last Chance?


Against a backdrop of ever-worsening news about climate research and extreme weather events, many believe this COP may be our last chance to come together and commit to the changes big enough to make a difference. Previous COPs have seen vital agreements reached, such as COP21’s Paris Agreement: attendees committed to aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees and updating their emission reduction plan every 5 years. Sadly, the actions in the Paris Agreement aren’t enough to achieve that 1.5-degree limit. It’s estimated they would result in warming over 3 degrees by 2100.




IMAGE: Bank of England

To keep the 1.5-degree goal in reach, we must halve global emissions in the next decade and achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Alok Sharma, previously the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, is the President-Designate of COP26. He is calling on all countries to update their emissions reduction targets (Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) for 2030 to ensure they’re working towards these targets, hoping the most developed and carbon-emitting countries will take the lead.


Swift, decisive actions are needed to achieve these goals:


  • Developed countries must rapidly phase out coal power. A global commitment to not open or finance new coal-fuelled power stations is needed. Developing countries must be supported in their quest for clean energy.
  • Forests, which can act as vital carbon sinks, must be protected. To this end, countries must work together to reform agricultural practices and reward sustainable production of commodities such as like beef, soy and palm oil.
  • The switch to zero emission vehicles must be rapid. The UK has committed to ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, urging other countries with major car markets to follow their lead and influence the car industry to invest more heavily in clean technologies.


The Significance of 1.5 Degrees


1.5 degrees of warming will have a significant negative impact on our lives and our environment. However, experts believe the effects of a 2-degree warming would be substantially more severe: a third of the world’s population would be regularly exposed to life-threatening heat, nearly all warm-water coral reefs would be destroyed, and the Arctic’s sea-ice would melt entirely at least once per decade. It’s possible that Greenland and the Antarctic’s ice sheets would melt irreversibly, causing a sea-level rise of several metres.


Extreme Weather Events: Preparation and Protection


We’re already seeing geological changes and extreme weather initiated by climate change. We know that despite our efforts, things will get worse before they (hopefully) get better, and that unfortunately, it’s often those most vulnerable who are most at risk from climate change.


This means we must invest in actions to prepare for extreme weather and protect those at risk, such as improving early warning systems and flood defences, and building resilient infrastructure and agriculture to prevent loss of lives, livelihoods and natural habitats. Actions should include restoring habitats that provide natural defences against storms and floods, simultaneously improving the health of our ecosystems and,

in turn, our farming.


All countries should produce an ‘Adaptation Communication’ to facilitate sharing resources, guidance, and best practice between countries. This should summarise:


  • their actions and plans for climate change adaptation
  • their continuing challenges and the help they require to address them.


The UK has co-developed the Adaptation Action Coalition, in partnership with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, the Netherlands, Saint Lucia and the United Nations Development Programme. This brings countries together to find solutions to some of the biggest climate change challenges. The UK is encouraging all countries to join up.


Financing a Greener Future


Whilst green solutions are often more economical in the long run, the scale and speed of the actions we must take immediately may prove costly. We will require innovative thinking in the financial sector, and both private and public finance to fund new infrastructure and technologies.


Developed countries have promised to raise at least $100 billion (€85 billion) of climate finance annually for developing countries, and it’s vital they deliver. The OECD estimates that $78.9 billion (€67 billion) of climate finance was mobilised in 2018. This must be used not only for adaptation and mitigation but also to improve access to, and increase finance for, communities tackling climate change worldwide. The UK is doubling its International Climate Finance commitment to at least £11.6 billion between 2021 and 2025 and asking other countries to follow its example.


Trillions in private finance will be needed to reach net zero by the middle of the century and every future financial decision will need to take climate into account. This particularly applies to spending decisions of countries and international financial institutions as they attempt to rebuild economies damaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, companies, banks, insurers, investors and other financial firms also need to be clear about the risks and opportunities posed by climate change and shifting to a net zero economy. They must work towards resilience to survive these changes and ensure their decisions and investments align with the net zero commitment.


Creating Consensus


It’s important that barriers to participation in COP26 are removed and all voices are heard, especially those from climate-vulnerable communities and those struggling to transition from a high carbon infrastructure.


As President of COP26, it’s Alok Sharma’s job to create a consensus during the negotiations, which will primarily focus on finalising the ‘Paris Rulebook’: the rules required to implement the Paris Agreement. This will involve:


  • finding ways to create a reliable system of carbon credits to support the shift to net zero
  • establishing a global system to encourage all countries to keep their commitments, ensuring transparency
  • brokering an agreement that ensures governments are driven to keep the 1.5 degrees goal alive.




IMAGE: European Union, 2021

The Paris Rulebook, or any other agreement, will not deliver net zero by itself. Ambitions will not create change unless they’re quickly turned into actions in this pivotal period. Governments, businesses and communities will all need to work hard and work together, to reduce our negative environmental impact on the world.


That’s why the UK is working with the UN High-Level Champions on Climate Action to stimulate major change in the global economy, paving the way for rapid progress over the next decade.


COP26 presents a vital opportunity to forge agreements to change our planet’s fate and future for the better, but it’s an opportunity that must be taken by all participants if we are to mitigate the climate crisis.






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