COP26: A Brief Explanation and Potential Outcomes

Sarah Roberts6 min readNews

Unless you’ve been completely off grid, you’ll have probably heard about the conference that’s happening in Glasgow right now. COP26 is the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties. It began on the 31st of October and it will run until the 12th November 2021. The summit’s objective is to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Experts agree that COP26 will be a seismic event in the future of our planet, with experts calling for much-needed commitments from world leaders and big businesses to help put a stop to rapid global warming. In this guest blog post for Blacks, Eco Journalist Sarah Roberts discusses key issues that need to be addressed at this year’s summit and some potential pledges that it's hoped will be agreed.

Last year, COP26 was postponed understandably due to a certain global pandemic. However now that it’s in full swing again, it’s a great time to look past all the hot air and take a rain check (literally) on where we are at.

Help for Developing Countries

cracks in the floor caused by a severe drought

The impacts of climate change aren’t spread evenly around the planet, with poles and the central equator most exposed. That is why in 2009, world leaders committed to pledging $100 billion in funding each year for developing countries to help them adapt to the immediate effects of climate change and to help them reduce their own emissions. This pledge was then extended two more times, including in the Paris agreement in 2015. Whilst the accounts for last year have not been fully disclosed yet, it’s generally accepted that we fell short of this target. In fact, we have yet to hit it at all, despite experts warning that this figure is far short of what is actually needed to help. Going into Cop26, this year it’s currently predicted that we are around $10 billion short for 2021. That’s why a lot of people are hoping to see more pledges coming through and ideally an increase in global funding generally.

Halting the Rapid Rise in Global Warming

An iceland glacier melting, shot during Sarah Roberts' investigation for Blacks outdoors

In the first IPCC report, scientists from around the world agreed that a 2°C rise in global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on the planet. As a result, governments pledged to significantly reduce their carbon emissions by 2030. The Emissions Gap report, released in 2021, suggests that even with these commitments and the mitigation measures pledged, we are currently on course to reach a 2.7°C rise in temperatures by the end of the next eighty years. At the current rate of warming, 37% of the world’s population will be exposed to severe heatwaves, 61 million more people in urban areas would be exposed to severe droughts and 70% of the earths coastal areas will be underwater from rising sea levels.

The stats are even more scary looking at biodiversity, extreme weather and food production. With this in mind, it’s now widely accepted that we must aim for only a 1.5 degree Celsius rise (which would still be pretty horrendous for coral reef systems and the arctic), but to do this, the report suggests we must half our greenhouse gas emissions in the next 8 years!

Switching to Sustainable Power

wind turbines helping to create sustainable power

We will be looking to world leaders to see radical changes in their pledges at this COP. This needs to also include more investment in carbon capture and storage technology, a larger shift to renewable energy, an end in coal production and an increase in reforestation. Right now though, half the UK’s electricity is generated from gas-fired energy plants, we’ve had problems with our nuclear production, our electricity cable from France has been shut down and despite having a large investment in wind energy, we’ve just seen our least windy summer since 1961. As you probably know, we are currently in an energy crisis and this is not limited to our country. Around the world, there is a larger demand for limited natural resources than we can supply. In short, our tech-based lifestyle has been using a lot of gas and we need to figure out how to roll out a sufficient alternative fast. An obstacle that will likely be discussed in COP26.

The Carbon Market. What is it?

a forest shot from above. trees are being planted as carbon credits so help companies achieve carbon neutral status

One term you may become more familiar with in the near future is the ‘Carbon Market’. Essentially, a parallel global market has risen from the ashes and this one is geared only in offsetting carbon. To put this simply, there is going to be a huge requirement for all businesses to be carbon neutral or ideally carbon negative in the coming decades. Some businesses are able to make this shift internally by eliminating their carbon output, switching to renewable energy or investing in carbon capture. This is not a cheap process though and most businesses will still produce an inevitable carbon footprint. In this case, they will need to look at offsetting this by purchasing ‘carbon credits’ on the ‘carbon market’. A carbon credit is basically an investment in an organisation planting trees, mangroves, rewilding or doing something to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.

There isn’t any regulation around this right now so it currently costs anywhere from $3 to $65 per tonne of carbon removal, with investment in carbon capture technology coming out at even more expensive. For more information on this, take a look at my investigation into what Iceland is doing to help solve the climate crisis. The market is currently valued at $300 million but it's projected to reach $50 billion in the near future. The ex-head of the Bank of England is now in charge of trying to tidy this up and scale it. This will be another key topic discussed at COP26, alongside food generation too.

What can you do?

As well as pledges from governments and big businesses, it is hoped that the spotlight on Glasgow’s COP26 summit will inspire us all to take action. Here are some helpful tips on how to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

a list of ways you can cut down your carbon footprint related to food

a list of ways you can cut down your carbon footprint related to travel

a list of ways you can cut down your carbon footprint related to clothing

a list of ways you can cut down your carbon footprint related to energy

There have been a lot of impressive pledges in the proceeding COP summits and we will no doubt hear even more appealing pledges in this one too. The world is now looking to see tangible action and fast. To quote Sir David Attenborough on his opening speech:

“The people who are alive now, and those from generations to come. They will look back at this conference and consider one thing: did that number stop rising and start to come down as a result of commitments made here?”

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Sarah is a naturalist, author and expert on enironmental issues. Her work has taken her to some of the wildest ecosystems in the world, from tropical reefs to temperate rainforests. She loves living off the beaten track, but in realising just how threatened her favourite wild places and species are, she set up an outreach platform (www.thisiscreature.com) in 2014 to help raise awareness and educate people on environmental issues.

She now splits her time between documenting lesser-known wildlife stories in the field and communicating them through her children's book, youtube channel and public talks. In her spare time, Sarah loves to swim and hike (especially with her best pal, Badger the dog) or to practice her very limited skills in surfing/skateboarding.