COP26: What is the UN climate conference in Glasgow and why is it so important?

Leaders from 196 countries are meeting in Glasgow in November for a major climate conference.

They are being asked to agree action to limit climate change and its effects, like rising sea levels and extreme weather.

What is the climate conference?

The summit is widely seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control.

It is the moment world leaders will discuss whether enough has been achieved since 2015’s landmark Paris climate agreement.

This was the most important attempt so far to commit all the countries of the world to limit global warming.

They agreed to try to keep temperature increases “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to try to limit them to 1.5C. But many scientists say efforts have fallen far short and global warming could be set to reach 3C.

Organised by the UN, the conference is called COP26 (COP stands for Conference of the Parties).

What action needs to be agreed at COP26?

Countries are being asked for “ambitious” targets to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases – which add to global warming – going into the atmosphere by 2030.

And they will be asked how they will achieve “net zero” – no more going into the atmosphere than is removed – by 2050.

Burning fossil fuels is a major cause of emissions.

So, the steps needed could include:

  • Ending the use of coal
  • Stopping deforestation
  • Switching to electric vehicles
  • Investing in renewable energy

What is climate change?

Climate change describes a long-term change in the weather patterns of the planet.

The world has already warmed by about 1.2C since factories became widespread, and temperatures will keep rising unless governments take action.

Food shortages, heatwaves, storms and rising water levels are among the possible effects.

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How the world is projected to warm by 2100

What do the world’s poorer countries want?

People living in poorer countries are at the frontline of many of the changes caused by global warming.

Family in floodwater in Bangladesh

Not only is there the danger from drought or heatwaves, but rising sea levels are slowly submerging entire island nations, and poisoning fields with salty water.

Ahead of COP26, more than 100 developing countries have set out their demands, including:

  • Funding to fight and adapt to climate change
  • Compensation for the effects it will have on them
  • Money to help make their economies greener

They say that without progress on these points, COP26 will be worthless and will end in failure.

What have richer countries promised?

Wealthy countries pledged $100bn (£720m) a year by 2020, to help poorer nations:

However, the most recent figures showed that they’ve only managed $79bn.

By 2018, about three-quarters of the money was in the form of loans that need to be paid back, rather than grants that do not. This is a problem for poorer countries, many of which are already in debt.

The issue has become “a matter of trust” and rich nations “must deliver now”, said Alok Sharma, the president of COP26.

This topic – known as climate finance – is going to be one of the biggest subjects of debate.

Bar chart showing how much climate finance has been provided by developed countries in the last decade

How committed is the UK to tackling climate change?

In 2019 the UK government was the first major nation to announce a target of “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

Earlier this year, it also said it wanted to achieve a 78% cut by 2035.

However, opposition politicians say the government’s words have not been matched by action.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has accused the Conservatives of using “soundbites with no substance”.

What would success at COP26 look like?

There are huge expectations COP26 will deliver significant progress in the battle against rising temperatures.

Richer countries will be asked to honour the $100bn financial pledge they have already made, if any progress is to be made.

An agreement committing the world’s nations to phasing out coal-burning would be a major achievement, although pre-summit meetings suggest this will be no easy task.

There will also be pressure on countries to keep raising their ambitions, not only with regard to cutting emissions, but in helping those communities and countries already affected by climate change.



Date: 6 August 2021