politics

COP26 summit explained: How it works, what UK needs to achieve and why it matters to you



The future of the planet is now in Britain’s hands as world leaders descend on Glasgow for a landmark climate summit.

Tens of thousands of negotiators and officials will try to wrestle more money and pledges out of rich nations at COP26.

The UN summit is aiming to “keep 1.5 alive” – limit global temperature rises to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden will attend the glittering event, though the Queen has pulled out due to health issues.

The 12-day summit is the 26th COP, which means “conference of the parties” to the UN Framework on climate change.

It is being held at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC), which includes a 3,000-seat auditorium, 14,300-capacity arena and five exhibition and meeting spaces.








A protest for the climate in Cornwall – featuring Boris Johnson and an ‘oilhead’
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Image:

Greg Martin / Cornwall Live)



This year the UK has the Presidency of COP. It’s our job to bring together 197 nations in a historic set of pacts – with the gavel coming down on Friday 12 November.

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But if six friends can barely agree on a pub, imagine getting 197 countries to agree on the future of the world.

Boris Johnson admitted this week he is “very worried” it “might go wrong” and end without the right agreement.

“It’s touch and go,” the Prime Minister said – hosing down expectations after he was criticised for setting them too high.

And today Boris Johnson is holding last-minute talks with G20 leaders in Rome, “calling for concrete steps on coal, cars, cash and trees so we can keep 1.5 alive and stay on track for net zero.”

He will send a warning shot, with his spokesman saying “too many countries are still doing too little” and “the success of COP26 hangs in the balance.”

“We cannot create a better future while running down the clock on climate.,” his spokesman warned.

Much of the focus will be on global diplomacy and late-night talks in sweaty conference rooms, thrashing out agreement.

It’s also likely to be speckled with a string of UK announcements, after the PM’s Net Zero Strategy was criticised for offering only a handful of £5,000 heat pump grants and giving no final cost of getting to net zero emissions by 2050.








A pedestrian crosses the Clyde Arc Bridge overlooking the Scottish Event Campus, the venue for COP26
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Image:

Ewan Bootman/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock)



So after all the headlines, how will COP26 actually work? What do we need to get out of it? And how will it affect your life?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What the world is trying to achieve

Unlike the Paris COP of 2015, there won’t be one flashy new agreement signed by the world leaders in Glasgow.

Instead, there will be a series of smaller agreements patched together in a bid to keep what’s already promised on track. These include:

‘Keeping 1.5 alive’

The Paris Agreement in 2015 (COP21) pledged a goal to limit global warming to 2C, preferably 1.5C, compared to pre-industrial levels.

But to keep within 1.5C by the year 2100, the UN says the world will need to HALVE annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next eight years.

And a damning UN report has warned current pledges will tip us towards a global temperature rise of 2.7C by the end of the century.

That would swallow up whole cities and island nations as seas rise due to “catastrophic changes in the earth’s climate”, the UN warned.

It’s understood the UK doesn’t expect that projection to come down to 1.5C due to COP, but wants a “plausible” chance of closing the gap by 2030.








World leaders agreeing the COP21 pact in Paris in 2015
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Image:

LightRocket via Getty Images)



Pushing for countries’ new emissions plans

The Paris Agreement made a pledge of 1.5C, but didn’t at that point have anywhere near enough solid plans to achieve it.

So the agreement contains a system to “ratchet” up nations’ pledges to cut their carbon emissions every five years – starting in Glasgow.

Much (though not all) of the ratcheting is done through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which were due to be submitted before COP.

But these may come down to stressful, last-minute talks with nations trading off what they think they can stomach politically and economically.

Vast nations like China and India still haven’t submitted their NDCs and could wait until the climax of the summit.

Closing the gigaton gap

To ‘keep 1.5 alive’, the world needs to cut global emissions by 28 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2030 – over and above unconditional NDCs.

UK officials think they might get one gigaton of commitment from China and 0.5 from India. Wider policy decisions like cutting coal use are crucial.

One source admitted “we’re never going to get” to the target by mid-November” – but 8 gigatons would be a good outcome from COP26.








Workers unload coal at a storage site along a railway station in Hefei, Anhui province, China
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Image:

REUTERS)



Getting $100billion a year

At COP16 in Copenhagen in 2009, the parties agreed to “mobilise” $100billion a year for poorer nations by 2020 to deal with climate change.

But the pledge has been missed and a report has suggested the target will not be met until 2023, three years late.

That is despite US President Joe Biden announcing he would double America’s commitment to $11.4bn, bringing the running total closer to $90bn.

The $100bn commitment from public and private finance helps nations that have caused the least climate change but are most vulnerable to it.



How does the summit actually work?

The summit is being held from Monday 1 November to Friday 12 November – bookended by world leaders glad-handing at either end.

It is not being held online despite soaring Covid cases because smaller nations fear they would lose their voice – or ability to press home a deal – on a shaky Zoom connection.

Tens of thousands of attendees will gather inside a ‘blue zone’ at the SEC, taking daily lateral flow tests to try to prevent a super-spreader event.

Boris Johnson will meet allies on November 1-2 and there was due to be a reception hosted by the Queen, though she will no longer come.

The rest of the week will be taken up with rattling through the “backlog” of less controversial plans from the last two years.








COP26 President Alok Sharma – a UK minister – will have a lot of late nights
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Image:

Getty Images)



In week two the focus will shift onto the more difficult political issues. A source said: “It will run late into the night – especially in the second week.

“It’s going to go long, it’s going to be messy.”

COP26 President Alok Sharma – a UK minister – will spend 90% of his time darting round negotiating rooms trying to keep various delegations happy.

That will then lead up to a moment of agreement on the final Friday when a series of deals are sealed – more on this below.

At the same time as all this there are themes for each day – energy, youth, nature, gender, transport, cities for example – as well as a dazzling array of side events, lobbying organisations and protests outside the venue.

What are the big pinch points?

The obvious problem is persuading the world’s nations to come up with something ambitious enough, as they grapple with politics back home and the ructions of Covid-19 on their economies.

This is shown in a leak to Greenpeace, which claimed countries were lobbying for changes to a UN report on how the world should tackle climate change.

Documents named countries including Australia and Saudi Arabia as those trying to get the report to weaken a conclusion that fossil fuels should be phased out.

Brazil and Argentina also reportedly made comments pressing report authors to delete messages about the climate benefits of undertaking a “plant-based” diet, despite a study in 2018 finding that moving to a meat-free diet could cut food land use, and reduce emissions by 49%.

And the Australian government asked to be deleted from a list of the world’s major producers and consumers of coal, despite being the fifth largest coal producer, Greenpeace said.








Deforestation in Brazil is a major issue
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Image:

AFP via Getty Images)



Closely linked is the attempt to get more action from “non-state actors” – better known as global corporations, 100 of which are blamed for 71% of the world’s emissions in a 2017 report.

Those companies will need action in their own right – not just to be compelled by governments – to get the world on the right side of 1.5.

Deforestation is a tricky issue, with a few countries – such as Brazil, led by tree-chopping Jair Bolsonaro – responsible for much of it. Boris Johnson made a personal plea on the issue to Russia’s Vladimir Putin this week.

A final pinch point is persuading the most vulnerable nations – from Bangladesh to island states like Barbados, Fiji, Costa Rica, Marshall Islands – to back plans.

A UK source suggested they are “swing voters” and “whoever wins them wins COP”. “Some of these guys are facing the existential loss of their nation above 1.5 degrees”, they added.

How will the deal get sealed?

Friday 12 November is the big day to seal the deal – or is it?

The last COP in Madrid ran 44 HOURS late – and sources have not ruled out a similarly nightmarish late finish in Glasgow.

On the Friday some world leaders are due to return, while other leaders – such as those of island states – are likely to have stayed in the Scottish city throughout.

Together they will “gavel” a set of documents, some long and technical, all topped by a document called 1/CP.26.

The UK wants this document to allude to progress on NDCs and policies and address the 2030 emissions gap.




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Why does it matter to you?

With all the high politics inside a top-security ‘blue zone’ it can be hard to see how this affects your life.

Even some of the practical things, like mangrove planting in Barbados, can seem terribly far away.

But the big numbers agreed at COP26 will drip down slowly into national policies that will affect your life – and your wallet.

The UK is already talking about banning all new gas boilers by 2035 and the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2032.

Global trade also affects the things you can buy in the supermarket – for example, if the use of palm oil reduces across the planet.








Electric car charging is set to become a more common sight
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Image:

REUTERS)



How does the G20 fit in?

Just before COP26, world leaders are gathering in Rome today for the G20 summit of 20 of the world’s richest nations.

Boris Johnson is be among them, having flown out last night on a charter plane with a full delegation of press and aides.

But with the G20 focusing on “people, planet, prosperity”, there’ll be a lot of overlap. It could well end up as a warm-up act to the COP26 summit that follows.

“We see all those issues as being linked,” the PM’s spokesman said.

“This is an important moment to use this gathering of world leaders as we come into the final days before COP to look them in the eye and make sure we are getting the level of ambition that’s required to keep 1.5 alive.”

If things go well, it could give Boris Johnson a “bounce” going into COP26 – but equally, if the G20 falls flat it could make things tougher when COP kicks off.

One bad sign is that the nations of Russia, China, Japan and Mexico are not expected to turn up in Rome – with Putin and Xi not expected at COP either.

While all nations are likely to send negotiating teams, it sometimes takes the gravitas of a national leader to get a deal over the line – especially with a country like Russia and China which have a fraught relationship with the UK.








Activists dressed as “debt collectors” outside the IMF in Washington
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Image:

AFP via Getty Images)



Which leaders WILL attend COP26?

While neither Russia’s Putin nor China’s Xi are expected, the leaders of the US, India, the UK, Australia, France, Canada, Turkey, Israel, Colombia and Sweden are all due to turn up in Glasgow.

But Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who leads a country containing much of the Amazon rainforest, is not expected to go.


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