• Jessica Toale

COP26 Explained: Is this our last chance to save the world?


Climate change is back on the agenda – and in a big way. This week global leaders meet in Glasgow for COP26, in what has been dubbed our last best chance to save the world.


The past five years has seen a surge in global consciousness about the threats we face from climate change. Our recent survey of Labour members put climate change as both the greatest foreign policy threat we face and the most important priority for our foreign policy.


So, what exactly is COP26 and what can we expect from the summit? It comes at a time when the UK has been facing fuel shortages, rising energy costs and food supply chain issues. The recent budget also saw the Chancellor cut air passenger duty on domestic flights and confirm the UK would not meet its 0.7% aid target. The stakes are high, but given these latest developments, can we really expect it to be a success?


So, what is COP?


COP stands for Conference of Parties and is a summit attended by the 197 countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994. The summit occurs every year. COP26 was originally postponed in 2020 due to the pandemic. This year it is being hosted by the UK in Glasgow, with Italy as the summit partner.


Why is this COP so important?


COP26 marks five years since countries agreed the Paris Agreement. This committed countries to working together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (with the aim of 1.5 degrees). It also committed countries to making climate adaptation efforts and ensuring funding was available for these aims. Under the Paris Agreement, countries must publish national plans – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – setting out by how much they will reduce their emission. Countries must report on these plans every 5 years and then provide an updated plan. Glasgow is the moment for countries to update their plans.


The negotiations at this COP will focus on finalising the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement and on how to accelerate action to reduce emissions, strengthen adaptation and resilience to climate impacts and scale up finance and support.


What will happen at COP26?


The Summit officially started on Sunday 31st October and will run for the first two weeks of November. Delegates from attending countries will meet for both formal negotiations and informal consultation to discuss how to reach the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. They will take part in meetings with other delegations to clarify their position and interests with the aim of reaching agreement or overcoming any negotiation deadlocks. The UNFCCC will host a number of events, including technical briefings to support the negotiations. United Nations personnel and media and NGO observers will also be present.


Alongside this is a series of public events, workshops, presentation and demonstrations will be led by civil society. This includes a Global Day of Action, next Saturday 6th November, which will see millions of people around the world marching for global climate justice.


Will it be a success?


Bold, prompt and decisive action is needed from willing countries if we are to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. The UK government have set a series of goals for COP26 including: achieve net zero by 2050, protect communities and natural habitats from climate change, make good on the promise to provide $100bn in climate finance per year and finalise the rules that make the Paris Agreement operational.


However as with all multilateral forums, the process ruled by consensus, thus the pace set by least willing.


Concerns have been raised about President Xi Jinping’s decision not to attend the conference and his recent decision to increase coal production as China faces an acute energy crisis at home. As one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases what China does can have significant impacts. But while huge progress has been made, its national plan for greenhouse gases has been criticised for not being ambitious enough.


World leaders have also failed to meet the pledge to provide $100bn a year to support countries adapt to climate. The UK’s decision to cut its 0.7% aid commitment is seen as a barrier to the its attempts to persuade other countries to increase their contributions. And countries are tired of waiting. President of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chair of the African Union, Felix Tshisekedi, recently called for urgent action to support the continent’s plan.


Over the next two weeks we will be publishing a series of blogs by LFPG members who are attending COP26 or have detailed working knowledge of the climate policy areas covered in the negotiations. We hope these blogs will shed light on the summit and provide some analysis of the issues debated and outcomes secured - as well as explore climate change as a foreign policy issue and what this means for Labour.


Jessica Toale is co-chair of the Labour Foreign Policy Group and a former Labour Party political advisor. Follow her on Twitter: @JessicaToale

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