COP26 – A Beginner’s Guide

For almost thirty years, representatives from countries worldwide have met to negotiate and agree on steps to tackle climate change by mitigation (reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally) and adaptation.

In the run-up to COP26, every nation must report how it plans to tackle climate change. During the conference, they will negotiate a joint agreement aiming to do more, so that we can reach the goals set in COP21 (Paris Agreement) to mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to it.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is the international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015, negotiated by 196 countries. It covers measures to mitigate (prevent) climate change and others aimed at helping us adapt to it, as well as financial mechanisms to support these efforts. 

The Paris Agreement aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels – 1.5°C, if possible, as this would significantly reduce the risks and harm done by climate change of climate change. 

As part of the Paris Agreement, every country agreed to report and update their emissions reduction targets, known as Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Each country has to reassess its targets every five years and to make more ambitious commitments - a process known as 'the ratchet mechanism. 

Through this process, each country is expected to submit enhanced nationally determined contributions every five years to ratchet up ambitions to mitigate climate change to reflect the nations’ highest possible ambition and progress over time. 

The world is currently not on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C. 

2020 marked the first of these five-year cycles. This means that ahead of COP26 in Glasgow, countries must update their 2030 targets before the Glasgow summit.  

COP26 will focus on the following four topics:

  1. Secure global net zero carbon emissions (see details below) by mid-century and keep 1.5°C within reach.  

  2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. Enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to build resilience to avoid loss of lives, livelihood and homes.  

  3. Mobilise finance so secure the funds needed to achieve global net zero by the international community.  

  4. Work together to deliver. 

Emissions are characterised by their source:  

Scope 1: Direct emissions, created locally, e.g. from the gas used for heating;  

Scope 2: Indirect emissions, e.g. from electricity generation for use in University buildings;  

Scope 3: All other indirect emissions from activities of the organisation, including emissions from travel, procurement, waste, water, and food.  

Greenhouse gases are chemicals that contribute to climate change by making it harder for the Earth’s heat to escape the atmosphere. As well as carbon dioxide, they include other gases such as methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone, and achieving net zero will involve addressing emissions of all these.  

The various gases do not contribute to the greenhouse effect to the same extent and remain in the atmosphere for different periods of time. In order to make the effects of different greenhouse gases comparable they can be calculated as CO₂ equivalents or abbreviated with CO2e.

Net zero is when the greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere are balanced by those removed from the atmosphere.  

The University’s aim is to reduce our carbon emissions from Scope 1, 2 and 3 activities as far as possible, and to use carbon offsetting (see more below) to counterbalance what is left, so there is no overall change in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. Globally we need to reach net zero by 2050 to stop warming of our planet within reach of 1.5C. This is the UK government’s target.

An offset is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that we make to compensate for our emissions caused elsewhere. This is often done by investing in renewable energy, improving energy efficiency or through changes in land use, such as planting trees. 

We are not currently on track to limit global warming to 1.5°C - in fact, the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report suggests that without immediate action we risk a rise of about 2.7°C by 2100.  

A report compiled this year to assess progress ahead of COP26 shows that 113 countries have upped their commitments, or made new ones. These new commitments account for about 49% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This shows that countries are making progress towards the Paris Agreement’s goals. However, many commitments from developing countries can only be implemented if they get more financial resources and other support. Developing nations are vital to fighting climate change, with more than 6.5 billion people, and so far, they have not received this support. According to the latest International Panel on Climate Change, without immediate action, we risk a temperature rise of about 2.7°C by 2100. 

Use this commitment enhancement tracker to see our global progress towards our goals set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015:

There are three achievements we need to see happen in Glasgow to ensure that we are get back on track with our Paris Agreement goals. These are as follows: 

  1. Ratcheting down greenhouse gas emissions and ratcheting up finance for developing nations 
  2. Defining rules for how to implement the commitments made

  3. A ‘whole society approach’ towards transformation to a net zero world by 2050 

Is it just too late? 

No! It is not too late to make a difference. Every action we as individuals, businesses and governments take make a difference towards stopping the warming of our world. If we stop burning fossil fuels, we stop the rise in global temperatures. Every fraction of a degree makes a difference. 

Be part of the solution

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