Updated 10/31/21 9:45 ET: Add new details regarding participants and the opening of climate talks.
At first glance:
You may have heard of Paris Agreement or countries coming together to discuss climate change under the auspices of the United Nations, but you are confused by what is actually happening. Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Even people who have spent a lot of time thinking about climate change often have a poor understanding of it the United Nations climate process—Which, unfortunately, is one of the most important and confusing things happening on the planet. Here is your example of understanding what is COP26, which, for God’s sake, is the UNFCCC, and why you would care. Welcome to COP101!
What is COP26?
COP is an acronym for the “Conference of the Parties”. In a UN speech, the COP is analogous to a meeting of Congress or another legislature, except that they constantly talk about climate change. (Imagine Congress is like that!) In a climate country, Communities of Practice meet to address issues related to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or the UNFCCC, which is a major UN agreement that requires countries to unite to figure out how to stop global warming.
Once a year, representatives of all countries in the treaty gather in the same physical space to devise international action and climate change policy related to the UNFCCC. COP26 is the specific name of this year’s major meeting on climate change.
Who attends COP26?
Each of the 192 countries that signed the Paris Agreement sent a cohort of delegates to represent them in the negotiations. It is a lot people: about 20,000 delegates registered for attendance and 120 heads of state are coming.
President Joe Biden will be there along with 13 cabinet members and its top climate advisors Gina McCarthy and John Kerry. Opponents of Biden, including Republicans who fund fossil fuels Rep. Dan Crenshaw it will also appear. The heads of state from South Korea, Switzerland, France, Australia, India and countless other countries will also be present.
Read more: An inexhaustible list of world leaders who are too cowardly to appear at the UN climate talks
Among the celebrities is the broadcaster and naturalist David Attenborough, who has been named “People’s Advocate” at the summit.
So does “26” mean that there were 25 other COPs?
Yes. The UNFCCC was was created in 1992when 154 countries signed a new agreement on climate change. That agreement entered into force in 1994. The first Community of Practice was in 1995 in Berlin, and since then the Community of Practice has met almost every year. (Last year ‘s COP delayed due to a pandemic.)
That’s a lot of meetings. Why haven’t we fixed climate change so far?
The scale of the problem is not only quite large, but the UN process is also quite complicated. Most COPs are full of long discussions on small technical details related to various UN rules and parameters. Some COPs are mainly dedicated to disclosing the technical details of certain agreements.
Between all these procedures, you have something pretty large questions to be answered, such as how (and if) to hold larger countries accountable for their own a real share of global carbon emissions; how much financial assistance should smaller countries receive; and what the world can realistically achieve in relation to what science says we should do. When you have almost 200 countries, all with their own interests, seeking input on big and small issues, you have a recipe for consensus that is difficult to reach and many meetings. Civil society i even fossil fuel companies he also appears to try to influence the conversations by adding another layer. (Unfortunately, it seems that leaders listen to the latter more than the previous one so far.)
If it’s called COP26, what is a conference in Glasgow?
Glasgow is where this year’s COP is being held, from The United Kingdom is the host of the COP. Every year, the “presidency” of the COP – the country that hosts the show and which basically makes sure that everyone agrees and does things – changes, and the meeting is mostly held in a city within that country. Nevertheless, recent COPs have been held in non-host countries. Chile chaired COP25, but moved the conference to Spain due to protests against growing inequality. (Chile was just the host because Brazil gave up after Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency.)
But usually the name of the city where the talks are held is synonymous with that particular COP. In 2015, France hosted COP15, which is why we got the name Paris Agreement.
What is the Paris Agreement?
At the Paris COP, 192 countries agreed to take the world off fossil fuels and try to avoid, at a maximum, 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by additional warming by the end of this century. The agreement sets an aspirational goal of avoiding warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) through advocacy small island nations. As part of the Paris Agreement, the countries have agreed to submit their plans stating how much they plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This kind of agreement may sound very basic, but it was a huge deal for the UN process. Back in 2009, the countries had hoped to reach a similar agreement, but negotiations instead ended dramatically on the last day of the conference in diplomatic breakdown. Agreeing about these things is hard!!
If the world signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, shouldn’t we end these meetings by now?
Paris should never have been the final word on how the world would fight climate change. Consider it more of an initial plan. The agreement is modeled on countries that submit increasingly aggressive plans to reduce emissions every few years. We have also seen over the years how fragile the agreement is. The Paris Agreement is a relatively simple agreement something about the growing greenhouse gas emissions.
But it is also non-binding, which is why former President Donald Trump could pull out the US without any sanctions or penalties. That’s also why President Joe Biden could just join him i hand over a new pledge as if nothing had happened.
What happens at COP26?
Negotiators are working on many different mechanisms aimed at helping countries report climate targets and communicate with each other, including setting up common time frames for NDC ia common transparency framework which helps countries see each other’s progress and build trust that everyone is doing their homework on climate. They also discuss how to deliver on the promises made about climate change financing, in particular how richer countries take responsibility for helping the poorer to cross their economies and adapt to climate change.
The actual negotiations are closed to the public, but there are plenty of them activity it also happens outside of meetings. Thousands of spectators from what are known as “observer organizations” — NGOs, youth organizations, businesses, political groups — come to the COP to encourage delegates and the process, try to encourage them in one way or another, and generally get involved in the negotiations as much as possible from the sidelines.
Many of these groups hold demonstrations, discussions and other events—Many including celebrities and world leaders who receive a lot of news attention and can, to some extent, inform about what is happening in the discussions. Countries can also organize their own events, some of which can be quite clear about those countries ’priorities in the negotiations. (At COP24, the Trump administration put a a sadly sad panel entirely devoted to coal defense.)
Why is COP26 important?
There are several key benchmarks in the Paris Agreement that will be presented in this year’s negotiations, so this Community of Practice will not deal with technical details – we will certainly see some rejections and quarrels over major issues.
Perhaps equally important is the fact that there has been a lot of science and research since we last held a COP that illustrates the urgency of acting on the climate as quickly as possible. International Energy Agency said earlier this year that all new fossil fuel research must be fully completed by 2022 in order to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius (F). And in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, another UN body, published a report outlining how much the planet has changed — and how serious things will become if we don’t take action now. Suffice it to say that the global atmosphere around climate change has probably not been so intense in any other Community of Practice.
Read more: COP26 is perhaps the best way to finally start reducing greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning fossil fuels.
COP26 presidential candidate Alok Sharma gave his next speech in Paris on October 12, stating what was at stake and warning leaders that they must give it in Glasgow.
Will things change after COP26? Are we going to fix climate change?
Not to exaggerate, but there is a lot about this particular COP. If the UN can cope with the trend that every meeting ends controversial misunderstandings and when we come together in a rare moment of unity, we will have a strong framework to work on until we figure out how to reduce emissions over the next few years. If business is going as usual, well … hold your fingers.
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