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COP26 - UN Climate Change Conference


Date: 30 Sep 2021

Glasgow: 31 October - 12 November

The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow on 31 October – 12 November 2021.

Conference of Parties

The word ‘COP’ stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’, ‘the Parties’ being the governments which have signed the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC). The COP brings these signatory governments together once a year to discuss how to jointly address climate change. World leaders, ministers, and negotiators from ‘the parties’ attend along with representatives from civil society, business, international organizations, and the media

The COP is hosted by a different country each year and the first such meeting – ‘COP1’ – took place in Berlin, Germany in 1995.  COP26 is the 26th climate change COP and is being hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, taking place in Glasgow from 31 October-12 November 2021. It was originally scheduled to take place in November 2020 but was postponed by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

COP21: Paris Agreement

At COP21 held in Paris in December 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 Parties. This is a legally binding international treaty on climate change with aims to keep the rise in the global average temperature to ‘well below’ 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, ideally 1.5 degrees; strengthen the ability to adapt to climate change and build resilience; and align all finance flows with ‘a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development’.

The Paris Agreement has a ‘bottom-up’ approach where individual countries decide by how much they will reduce their emissions by a certain year. The pledges on emissions – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - submitted in 2015 were collectively not ambitious enough to limit global warming to ‘well below’ 2 degrees, never mind 1.5 degrees. To address this a “ratchet mechanism” was included to require countries to return to the negotiating table every five years with fresh targets to meet the temperature goals. 

The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is substantial: every increment of a degree translates into increased risks for people, communities, and ecosystems. The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underscores it is still possible to achieve the 1.5-degree-target but only if unprecedented action is taken now.

The Paris Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016 and the COP26 summit will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement


COP26 is the first test of this “rachet mechanism” and one of the main benchmarks for success in Glasgow will be how many governments will submit new NDCs and, when put together, if they are ambitious enough to put the world on track for ‘well below’ 2 degrees, preferably 1.5.

A proposed “Glasgow Pact”, would allow for future updates to emissions pledges in the next few years that could be sufficient for the world to stay within scientific advice on carbon levels. 

As of September 2021, 86 countries and the EU27 have submitted new or updated NDCs to the UNFCCC.

The EU on behalf of the members states submitted it’s initial NDC under the Paris Agreement and committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990. In December 2020, the EU on behalf of its members states submitted its updated and enhanced NDC with the target to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels, and information to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding (ICTU) of the NDC. 

A few governments, like China and Japan, have pledged new 2030 targets but are yet to submit them officially.

A successful outcome in Glasgow also requires developed countries to honour a promise they made back in 2009 of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries.

Strengthening the ability to adapt to climate change impacts is another important element of COP26, as will be discussions on how to deal with economic and non-economic harms caused by climate change impacts which cannot be avoided through adaptation or mitigation.

At COP26, parties also need to try and finalize the Paris Agreement’s ‘implementation guide’ – the Paris Rulebook. Agreeing on what rules should govern international carbon markets – the ‘Article 6 negotiations’ – is expected to be particularly difficult.

Further information is available on the official UNCOP website and on the official Twitter channel @cop26. COP26 Explained also provides additional information on the aims of this years conference.