COP26: What happened and why should I care?
COP26: What happened and why should I care?Back to News
COP26. It’s been everywhere! For the past 2 weeks you will have seen that name pop up in most of your feeds but how many of us know what it actually is? Should we even care? Onesta is here to answer some questions and give you a breakdown of what went on.
What is COP26?
COP26 is the 26th global annual summit held by the parties to the United Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It’s a long acronym but they are basically a group of 197 countries who think it is really important to lower Green House Gas emissions (GHG emissions). They were formed in 1994 which was pretty incredible because there wasn’t as much scientific evidence available back then to really highlight how much of a big issue this is! The Conference of Parties (COP) has been running since 1995 with the first taking place in Berlin as an opportunity for the members of the UNFCCC to meet up and discuss how they are going to reduce GHG emissions by setting targets, having developed countries lead the way, direct funds to developing countries to assist change, and keeps tabs on the problem and what is actually being done. It’s pretty much a big strategy meeting to discuss how we fix the mess that we have all made of our planet! COP26 is the 26th annual meeting of its kind. It has been held every year except for last year in 2020 when it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are three categories for who gets to go to COP. Representatives of Parties to the Convention and Observer States (all the countries that are part of the UNFCCC), the press and media, and representatives of observer organisations (non-governmental organisations who have been allowed to join in because they can bring experience, expertise and information to the table that might otherwise be missed).
As a member of the public, you can go to COP as a representative of an observer organisation or you can volunteer. You could also get tickets for the COP26 Green Zone. This was held in the Glasgow Science Centre this year. There were events, exhibitions, cultursl performances, workshops, and talks the whole 12 days.
Why is it important?
So, what is so special about this COP? Well, it is the first time since the Paris Agreement that the pledges will be upgraded. This means that they will have higher targets, not being allowed to sit around patting each other on the back. We need to keep pushing ourselves with our targets and trying harder to preserve our planet. Another reason why this conference is important is that a lot of issues and decisions did not reach consensus at COP25. This means that some important decisions that were put off will be resolved this year. The USA is also returning to COP this year after withdrawing in 2019 from the Paris Agreement. That is a big player back in the game.
What was expected?
- Secure a Net Zero pledge for 2050 and a reduction target for 2030.
- Keeping to the 1.5-degree promise
- Make changes so we can protect communities and habitats.
- Mobilise finances for developing countries
- Clear plans for meeting targets
- Work together!
What were the outcomes?
There were some great pledges and commitments made this year! If you want to get a more in depth look at what went on then we encourage you to read around, maybe have a look at the sources that we have linked. We just want to summarise the key points to make it easier to understand what went on.
Net Zero Targets
India has committed to being Net Zero by 2070 which is MUCH later than other countries and also too late according to the scientific targets.
Coal and Fossil Fuels
Over 40 countries have committed to phasing out coal. Coal is one of the most polluting fossil fuels. This pledge involves all of the countries who have committed ending all investment in new coal power generation both in their own country and in others.
All committed countries have agreed to phase out coal power by the 2040s. The UK has already decreased its coal usage in recent years. Less than 2% of the UK’s electricity comes from coal which is a dramatic decline from the 40% back in 2012. Over the next 3 years we will be down to 0%.
While this is a great step forward worldwide, there is still a lot to do. In 2019, coal was used to produce 37% of the world’s electricity. Some countries that are big contributors to coal usage have not signed the pledge. This includes the US, but they actually did join 19 other countries when they pledged to stop financing fossil fuel projects overseas. Instead, these countries will invest in clean energy which will be great!
Over 40 countries have agreed to speed up the development of clean and affordable technology worldwide by 2030. This is referred to as the Glasgow Breakthrough Agenda. There are currently five goals that the UK PM set out that cover 50% of global emissions:
- Power: Clean power is efficient and affordable and is a great option for all countries.
- Road Transport: Vehicle emissions are damaging but zero emission vehicles would be great if they could become accessible, affordable and sustainable.
- Steel: Making steel produces a lot of emissions and have pretty negative impacts on the environment but steel is really useful! Sweden recently made the world’s first steel without using fossil fuels. Near-zero emission steel will be very helpful to the environment.
- Hydrogen: renewable, affordable and low carbon hydrogen will be made available by 2030. We can generate electricity, power or heat with Hydrogen.
- Agriculture: Agriculture that is sustainable and climate-resilient should be widely adopted by 2030. This means sustainably using existing natural resources for crops and livestock.
The EU Catalyst Programme has been launched to finance breakthrough climate innovation. This was launched by the EU alongside Bill Gates and the European Investment Bank. It is worth one billion euros!
Financial firms that control 40% of global assets (£95 trillion) have agreed to net-zero by 2050. The UK is also the first country that will make all financial institutions and listed companies to explain how they will be net zero from 2023.
Japan also committed to give $10 billion over five years!
$1.7 billion has been promised to help support indigenous people’s conservation of forests and strengthen their land rights by five countries and a group of charities.
The Scottish government has committed £1 million to supporting climate disaster victims.
Stopping and reversing deforestation was one of the first commitments of COP26! More than 100 countries have signed up to this pledge which represents 85% of the world’s forests. This is funded by £14 billion!
Heads of state have committed to countries cutting their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Over 100 countries have joined this pledge and a good thing too as methane is said to be 20-80 times more destructive than carbon dioxide.
The Galapagos Marine Reserve protects biodiversity in the islands and surrounding waters. It has been agreed that the reserve will be expanded by almost half which will protect a greater area! This is important as well for the island nations because they are very vulnerable to rising sea levels.
Other events and key points
Supermarkets are joining the call! Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-op and M&S have said that they will work with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to reduce the destruction of nature. They have said that the global warming of a shopping basket will be halved. This is a great way to help the average person make a difference.
There has been a focus on youth movements and how important young people are in the implementation of the new way of life that we must all adopt. Young people have been putting their views directly to people who make the big decisions. YOUNGO is the official youth constituency of the UNFCCC so if you want to learn more about the youth climate movement head to their website.
There have also been a lot of protests and demonstrations. The COP26 Collation have said that around 200 events are happening around the world! On Saturday 6th November tens of thousands of people protested across the UK. The terrible but classic British weather couldn’t even deter them! This gave a great platform for such a variety of voices!
It was suggested that smaller businesses are less likely to take formal action to reach net zero by 2050. According to the British Business Bank only 3% of small business have measured their carbon emissions. Onesta is soon to be part of this small group! We recently committed to becoming Net Zero by 2050 and were a finalist for the Heros of Net Zero competition. As part of this we will be making meaningful steps to cutting out carbon emissions, starting with measuring our current carbon footprint. Small businesses need to join in making this commitment because it is important that we all work together. Our founder, Gabriella, represented small businesses on a panel at COP26 last Tuesday where she explained that having a group of like-minded businesses in a community is a great way to support each other when making these important decisions for the future.
The US and China have joined forces and made a declaration to work together to improve climate action. They have agreed to work on the issues of methane and deforestation as well as coal consumption.
Unfortunately, though we have made some big pledges and commitments, it appears it will not be quite enough. A report came out that said we are looking at a 2.4C increase by 2100, much higher than the 1.5C we are all aiming for! This means that we must all work together and try harder!
These issues discussed are only what we know as of the time of writing this. As is often the case with negotiations like this, the discussions are still ongoing so look out for any other announcements that may be revealed over the weekend!
What can you do:
There are loads of things you can do to join in with this wave of changes. For example, Google have tools that will help everyone become more environmentally friendly. We can find the carbon emissions of flights and find alternatives, hotel sustainability, alternatives to energy-intensive products, and other opportunities! A Sky News article also listed 6 ways we can do to stop global warming:
- Eat Less Meat
- Travel by car and plane less
- Use social media to share the impact we are having on the planet
- Avoid fast fashion
- Reuse – Don't just recycle
- Join a campaign group