The ‘COP26’ UN Climate Change Conference – Why You Should Care

This November marks the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), which is to be held in Glasgow. The COP is normally convened every year, and it represents the foremost opportunity for all the heads of state from around the world to come together and attempt to come to agreements on coordinated responses to the climate crisis, through prolonged negotiation and consultations. Also in attendance will be climate experts, lobbyists and campaigners, all trying to influence the outcome of the talks. As we all know by now, urgent action is required globally if we are to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis, and that no one country acting on their own will be enough, so these talks represent the formal attempts of the world’s national governments to address this need for collective action.

The COP has in the past been criticised as a piece of political theatre where world leaders can get together and make it seem as if real progress is being made on the climate crisis, all under the auspices of corporate sponsors and lobbyists, including from the fossil fuel industry1, while at the same time emissions continue to increase steadily over a long period. But although there is some truth to this, it is also true that it is absolutely necessary to have an international process for making agreements on responses to climate change, and that the COP is the only existing structure in which this can happen. It is also unlikely that anything will spring up in time to take its place. So if it has not been greatly effective up to this point, we might think that it should be the aim of activists and campaigners to influence the process (and their own governments) in order to make it so, rather than to shut down or ignore it out of frustration and disillusionment.

COP26 was postponed last year due to the Covid crisis, so there has been extra time for build-up leading up to this year’s conference. The focus will be on attempting to finalise some of the finer points of the agreement to limit global warming to well below 2oC, made in Paris in 2016, including:

  • The extent to which carbon market mechanisms, which aim to put a cost on every unit of carbon emitted, often using permits which can be traded between countries and entities, should be used in attempts to reach this target
  • How ‘funding for loss and damage’, which is enshrined in the agreement and seen as essential by less developed countries, but has not been implemented thus far, will be achieved
  • The delivery of the agreed-upon $100 billion climate finance target to help less developed countries meet their own emissions targets
  • The integration of ‘nature-based solutions’ into the implementation of the agreement
  • Whether the common timeframe for submitting national determined contributions, i.e. country’s individual pledges towards reducing emissions, should be 10 years or 5 years, with the 5 year option perhaps driving higher ambition2.

Some proposals for new initiatives to drive climate action would also be expected at the conference.

There has been some additional controversy surrounding this year’s conference, due to the fact that would-be attendees from less developed countries will be less likely to be able to attend, as they will have had less access to vaccination than those from developed countries. Additionally, less reliable internet connections will affect those from these countries more in general, should additional aspects of the process be moved online. In response, Greta Thunberg, who became pretty much the main sensation of the previous COP25 in Madrid, has said she will not attend unless vaccination rollout is provided on equal terms and that countries can therefore participate equally3.

Apart from pushing for a progressive implementation of the Paris agreement on the aforementioned fronts, those of us who wish to see strong action on climate can also be hoping and pushing for a binding deal with a deadline for reaching net zero emissions worldwide, and more detailed plans for how this will be achieved. Many groups will be organising both inside and outside the event, including Stop Climate Chaos Scotland4 and Friends of the Earth Scotland5, which will include holding online events. If interested, you can support this from the comfort of your home by signing up to provide ‘Virtual People’s Summit Support’ at Malta’s involvement in the COP comes as part of the EU, but we may also wish to try to influence our politicians to put forward stronger positions at EU coordination level.

James Sammut