What is Cop26 and why does it matter?

World governments have met nearly every year since to forge a global response to the climate emergency.

Cop stands for conference of the parties under the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

What does the Cop stand for?

This treaty bound every country on Earth to “avoid dangerous climate change”, and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally in an equitable way.

The talks are scheduled to end at 6pm on Friday 12 November, but will likely extend into Saturday and perhaps even Sunday.

The conference will officially open on 31 October, and more than 120 world leaders will gather in the first few days.

When is it?

They will then depart, leaving the complex negotiations to their representatives, mainly environment ministers or similarly senior officials.

Those targets were inadequate to meet the Paris temperature goals.

Yes. In 2015, nations committed to holding global temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels, while “pursuing efforts” to limit heating to 1.5C. Those goals are legally binding and enshrined in the treaty.

Don't we already have the Paris agreement?

However, to meet those goals, countries also agreed on non-binding national targets to cut emissions by 2030 in most cases.

Everyone knew at Paris that the national targets – known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs – were inadequate, so the French built in a “ratchet mechanism” by which countries would have to return to the table every five years with fresh commitments.

So what happens now?

All countries are now being urged to revise their NDCs before Cop26 in line with a 1.5C target, the lower of the two Paris goals.

No. The UN reported recently that current NDCs, including those that have been newly submitted or revised by the US, the EU, the UK and more than 100 others, are still inadequate.

Are we nearly there?

They would result in a 16% increase in emissions, far from the 45% cut needed. So much more remains to be done.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examined closely what temperature rise would mean for the planet.

Why is 1.5C so important?

An increase of 1.5C would still result in rising sea levels, the bleaching of coral reefs, and an increase in heatwaves, droughts, floods, fiercer storms and other forms of extreme weather, but these would be far less than the extremes associated with a rise of 2C.

Temperatures around the world are already at about 1.1 – 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, and greenhouse gas emissions are still on an upward trend.

How far do we have to go?

Carbon dioxide output plunged during the Covid-19 lockdowns last year, but that was temporary and it has surged again since as economies have recovered. To stay within 1.5C, global emissions need to come down by about 7% a year for this decade.

Nature-based solutions are projects such as preserving and restoring existing forests, peatlands, wetlands and other natural carbon sinks, and growing more trees.

Climate finance is the money provided to poor countries to help them cut emissions. The phase-out of coal is essential to staying within 1.5C.

NDCs and a long-term net zero goal are a central part of the negotiations.

Is Cop26 just about 1.5C?

But the conference hosts also hope to focus on climate finance, phasing out coal, and nature-based solutions.

The big players in the talks – the UN, the UK, the US – have already conceded that Cop26 will not achieve everything that was hoped for.

What happens if Cop26 fails?

What the UK hosts are now focused on is ensuring that there is enough progress on emissions cuts for 2030 to “keep 1.5C alive”, and to pursue as many other routes as possible to help reach that goal.

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