Oct 23, 2021

10 things to know about COP26

COP26
politics
Business leaders
Sustainability Live
6 min
COP26 Logo
COP26 is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland from 31st October - 12th November 2021. Here we explain who will (and won't attend) plus what's on the agenda.

What is COP26?

COP26 is the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP stands for Conference of the Parties - referring to the signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992).

It is a meeting of world leaders to discuss their countries’ climate policies. Specifically, countries will be expected to submit enhanced pledges to their Nationally Determined Contributions agreed at the original signing of the Paris Climate Agreement. 

 

When is COP26 happening?

Originally due to happen in 2020, COP26 was delayed to 2021 due to COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, it’s taking place from October 31st - November 12th 2021.

 

Where is COP26?

COP26 will be held at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, Scotland - around 50 miles west of Edinburgh. There are around 30,000 delegates expected to attend the event, including several world leaders. 

Glasgow’s environmental credentials match (and possibly even exceed) those of the world leaders attending the event. In 2020, Glasgow won the top award at the Global Human Settlements forum and was named Global Green City. It ranked #1 in categories including planning, transportation, buildings, open spaces and the economy.

The city met its commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30% in 2015, five years earlier than its self-imposed deadline. It has since committed to being a net-zero city by 2030. 

Some of the city’s ongoing initiatives include:

  • Replacing street and traffic lighting with LED technology (which could reduce their carbon footprint by up to 50%)
  • Planting 22,000 trees
  • Restoring surrounding peat bogs (which trap carbon from the atmosphere, safely storing it within a natural habitat)
  • Improving cycling and walking infrastructures

 

Who is attending COP26?

There are around 30,000 delegates expected to attend the event, including several world leaders

 

Can anybody go to the event?

COP26 is divided into two sections: the Blue Zone and the Green Zone. Each has different levels of access. 

 

Blue Zone

The Blue Zone is where world leaders and other high-ranking delegates meet. The majority of the debates and speeches which form the event take place in this area. Members of the public are largely unable to gain access but the press can. Don’t forget to join our email list for updates throughout the conference. 

 

Green Zone

The Green Zone is the public area of the conference. As well as large exhibition halls, there is a full itinerary of events to engage business leaders and members of the public in issues relating to climate change. Access to the Green Zone is ticketed and they are largely unavailable at this point. Again, remember to join our email list for updates throughout the conference.

 

What should we watch out for at COP26?

In some ways, this year’s event is notable for what won’t be happening. China and Russia’s leaders have both said they won’t be attending. They will be missed - Xi Jinping in particular - owing to the fact China emits more greenhouse gases than any other country. 

Because Jinping and Putin won’t be attending, it is unlikely that progress on a global scale will be made at the event. 

But the two absent superpowers aren’t the only countries likely to underwhelm. Under the original framework of the Paris Agreement, all participating countries are obliged to submit updated climate pledges every five years. Those pledges would have been made at this event last year (which was postponed to 2021). 

Despite the extra year, dozens of countries still haven’t updated their targets.

That said, the event could have major implications for international trading - which leads us onto the next question:

 

What should business leaders watch for at COP26?

This year’s event is expected to finalise Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. This innocuous sounding article creates provisions for a global carbon market, allowing carbon credits to be traded under common accounting principles. 

Business leaders, particularly those in the energy sector, will be watching very closely. Assuming that the rules are agreed at this event, it could unlock significant funding for the production of green energy plants - reducing the competitive advantage of fossil fuels. 

The exact mechanism is yet to be decided (we’ll provide a detailed explanation as the rules emerge) but it is expected to work like this:

  • Country A is struggling to meet its existing climate pledge (or has surplus funding available having already done so).
  • Country B needs to build a new power plant.
  • Country A pays for Country B to build a wind farm instead of a coal or gas powered plant.
  • Global emissions are reduced because of Country B’s new wind farm and Country A gets credits to count towards their own carbon reduction target.

Inevitably, there will be complications and restrictions put in place (which is the purpose of the discussion at COP26) and there are other elements to Article 6. For example, 6.2 will create an international accounting standard for carbon credits and 6.8 seeks to create a consistent framework for taxing carbon emissions. 

Article 6 is the last element of the Paris Agreement to be implemented. Unsurprisingly, it is also the most complicated. Business leaders will pay close attention as it evolves over the two weeks of the event. Join our email list for regular updates. 

 

Why is COP26 controversial?

With anything climate related, controversy is never far behind. COP26 is no different. 

 

Travel-related emissions

Firstly, tens of thousands of people are expected to descend on Glasgow. Whilst beautiful and steeped in history, few would argue that the city is ‘central’ from a global perspective. This means a significant increase in road and air traffic to the event. 

That said, it could also be a turning point in sustainable aviation. The British Government along with airlines (including British Airways) and the country’s major airports will make Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) available for all flights - including 65 heads of state. 

SAF is not quite carbon neutral but it is significantly better than traditional jet fuel. It can be made from a host of waste products including cooking oil (non palm-based) and even algae.

 

Greta Thunberg

The globally recognised teenage climate activist attracted headlines when she dismissed the event’s chances of making a meaningful impact:

“Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say 'we'll do this and we'll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this', and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don't really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it."

 

Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen is attending the event but was overheard in a private conversation by a microphone inside the Welsh Parliament questioning whether world leaders will actually take action - or even who would attend:

“Extraordinary isn’t it, I’ve been hearing all about COP, still don’t know who is coming, no idea … it’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do”.

 

What happens when COP26 ends?

This is a burning question - as seen in Queen Elizabeth II’s comments above. Political and business leaders alike know that they need to make more progress towards meeting climate goals. 

COP26 is predominantly political. Business leaders will have their opportunity to discuss climate issues and commit to their own policies at Sustainability Live in London in February 2022. 

 

Will there be a COP27?

Yes! There aren’t any solid details yet but the event will take place in November 2022. US Climate Envoy John Kerry has already revealed that Egypt has been chosen to host it.

 

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