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“COP26”: what you need to know

By now, I’m sure you’ve come across the term “COP26” at least a couple of times over the past weeks and months—it’s been an ongoing topic discussion for governments, industries, environmentalists and many individuals following debates around climate change.

But like many, I’m sure your first exposure to the term resulted in a quick Google search to figure out exactly what was being referenced. And this acronym is not alone: from “IPCC Report” to “Nationally Defined Contribution”, debates around climate change are full of vague terms that often make it challenging to participate.

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re cutting through the acronyms and reams of reporting to give you the essential info you need to follow along as world leaders discuss our planet’s future.

We’ll be producing regular posts on some of the key terms and ideas you'll be sure to see in the news and on your social media feeds over the next couple of weeks as COP26 takes place.

To start, what is a COP? What's the 26 all about? And why does it all matter? Here’s what you need to know about COP26.

What is COP26?

COP stands for “Conference of the Parties”. Which is essentially a fancy way of saying: “The countries (the ‘Parties’) that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will participate in a big meeting.”

The very first COP took place in March 1995 in Berlin, Germany. Since then, annual conferences of these parties have taken placewe’re now at the 26th such event, which rounds out the acronym of “COP26”.

Since that first COP meeting, there have been several key milestones where the parties have committed themselves to specific targets and universal goals. Most notable is the Paris Agreement which was signed by 196 parties at the COP21 conference (in Paris, resulting in the name of the agreement) in 2015.

The Paris Agreement was significant since it marked the first time that a binding agreement among all nations was agreed uponuniting the world in a common mission to fight climate change. Its goal was straightforward yet difficult: limit global warming to well below 2° C, with a target of only 1.5° C, as compared to temperatures in pre-industrial times.

COP26 will provide an opportunity for the parties and signatories of the Paris Agreement to discuss their action plans, share best practices, hear from industry and form new agreements on the path forward as we seek to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Who is involved?

COP26 will include representatives from the signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (governments around the world).

It will also include many interest groups, academics, and representatives from a range of sectors including finance, energy, tech, agriculture and more.

You can check out all the events and discussions that are set to take place at COP26 at the following links (spoiler alert: there are many!).

  • COP26 Green Zone Programme (where youth organizations, civil society, academia, artists, and businesses will host “events exhibitions, cultural performances, workshops and talks).

  • COP26 Presidency Programme (less of a trade show like the Green Zone Programme and more about debates on reaching the Paris Agreement and other targets. Topics include: Finance, Energy, Nature, Youth and public empowerment, Gender, Adaptation, Loss and Damage and more.)

When is it?

This year’s annual COP kicks off on Sunday, October 31 (a spooky idea to start on Halloween!) with the Procedural Opening of the event. It will close on Saturday, November 13.

So, buckle up. We’re headed for 14 days of climate talks!

Where is it?

This year, COP26 is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. The location is meant to showcase some of the great work that the city has done to meet ambitious climate goals.

For instance, Glasgow has set a target to reach carbon neutrality (meaning that any carbon emissions burned will be offset by initiatives to capture or sequester additional carbon) by the year 2030.

Why does it matter?

Climate change is a global problem. We need all countries on board with the mission to limit global warming and aligned on strategies on how we can get there. To reach this alignment, COP26 has four identified goals:

  1. Secure global net zero (carbon emissions) by mid-century and keep the 1.5° C goal of the Paris Agreement within reach.

  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats.

  3. Mobilize finance (at least $100B globally in climate finance per year)

  4. Work together to deliver.

If we’re to avoid the worst effects of changing climate, these goals need to be met and the work must start now.


Chad Richards is the Director of the Net Zero Partnerships program.


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