/ 17 September 2021

What is COP and why is COP26 so important?

Cop26 Glasgow
A general view of infrastructure being put in place at the Scottish Event Campus in Glasgow, the site of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties - also known as Cop26. Picture date: Tuesday September 14, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)

Negotiating teams across the globe are getting ready to go head to head at the November Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland with all human rights watchdogs’ eyes squarely focused on issues of finance. 

Countries party to the 2015 Paris Agreement — a binding legal agreement on climate change — will take stock of their efforts to stop further damage through cuts in greenhouse gas intensive activities, like burning coal and other fuels, in their economies. 

It will be the first face-to-face meeting since COP25 in Madrid, Spain in 2019, when developing and low-income countries walked away, outraged by the poor outcome. 

This meeting will be held against the backdrop of the largest assessment on climate science findings, released in early August. A global network of scientists commonly known as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world will heat by 1.5°C sooner than previously estimated; and that every degree of warming, and every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted, was making a monumental difference to a warmer life on Earth — and that it would continue to do so.

South Africa is yet to submit its updated commitment to making its own contribution to the climate crisis smaller by cutting down on emissions in energy, transport, agriculture and other sources. The latest greenhouse gas inventory report showed that the country’s emissions increased 10.4% between 2010 and 2017.  

Global emissions are on a rise too. The International Energy Agency said that, despite the decline in 2020, global energy-related CO2 emissions contributed to carbon dioxide reaching its highest ever average annual concentration in the atmosphere

It means the last scientific assessment eight years ago on the impact of a 1.5°C rise in warming and the effects of continued emissions has done little to change the tide in time.

A new E3G report shows that there has been a 76% reduction in proposed coal power globally since 2015; in South Africa plans remain in place to develop new coal-fired power energy.  

COP26 will present governments with options to prepare their countries for the reality that some damage is already done, but that stopping it and transforming economies is ripe with opportunities. 

Negotiators will face off on key issues, such as the finance wealthy economies in the G7 will commit to putting on the table, and how much of the infamous $100-billion a year commitment has been fulfilled. 

The upcoming talks in Glasgow will also provide governments, the private sector and finance institutions with platforms to discuss collaboration that will improve access to support and technology. 

The conference involves most UN agencies and thousands of human rights groups, academics, scientists and NGOs, who keep a watchful eye on countries who undermine the Paris Agreement and related commitments.

The UN’s climate conference in 2021 will determine the credibility of climate diplomacy and the future of half of the world’s children, who are at high risk of climate-change-related disasters. 

Civil society groups expect the success to be determined by the people most affected by warming in Africa and others in the Global South; those who need to find new ways of living in a changed climate that is putting pressure on natural resources and the environment. 

Certain individuals and organisations have remained committed to curbing climate change and the preservation of the environment, despite the debilitating global pandemic. The 17th edition of the Mail & Guardian’s Greening the Future flagship supplement will recognise individuals, companies, financial institutions, civil society, local community groups and government departments that have actively and positively championed this cause.

This year, we are aligning these awards to the much awaited 26th session of the Conference of the Parties — COP 26. This is a significant moment for the world to take stock of how much the Earth needs us to take care of it.

This year’s prestigious Greening the Future awards will announce 60 worthy environment champions who are working towards ensuring that CO2 emissions decrease within prescribed bounds to limit the precarious rise in global temperatures. The members of this select group are committed to protecting communities and natural habitats, mobilising finances, collaborating across sectors to protect the environment and overcome the challenges of the climate crisis.  

To nominate someone for this year’s awards, please click here.