COP-26 - More broken promises, or real change

What to expect from COP-26?

COP-26: humanity’s last hope to avert climate catastrophe?

Muddling bureaucracy, baffling policies and convoluted conventions - some of the first images that come to mind when imagining the knotty talks that take place every year as governments attempt to come together to deal with climate change. This year marks the 26th such meeting - COP-26 - but what actually is COP and how much can we expect from the talks?

Firstly, COP stands for Conference of Parties and it is an annual meeting between governments that has been going on almost every year since the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was established. It has seen varying degrees of success and failure, interspersed with the occasional moments of drama and fractious conferences. Nevertheless, there have been a number of highly significant victories over the years.

The most important of these victories took place 6 years ago in 2015, when delegates at the UN climate conference in Paris - COP 21 - took the world by surprise, agreeing a landmark deal that would go on to become the most important agreement in the history of climate accords - the Paris Agreement.

Crucially, this agreement has provided the basis for nearly all action on climate change around the world. The Paris Agreement was the first legally binding ambitious agreement that brought together nearly all nations (196, to be exact) around the world in a common cause - to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees C, ideally 1.5. Developed countries would take the lead in helping support developing countries to achieve this. It was to be a shining example of hope to the world in times of conflict of what can be achieved through cooperation.

Now, the stage is set for what will hopefully be the next breakthrough. It has been two years since the negotiators have met face to face and the signs are hopeful: it will be the first COP since the US rejoined the Paris Agreement and many of the major emitters around the world have been expressing a desire for cooperation against climate change.

This year is also a crucially important COP for another reason: it will be the first test of countries' intentions to stick to the Paris Agreement, which is based on a 5 year cycle. Under the Paris Agreement, all countries are supposed to make Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which outline their plans for reducing emissions, which they update every 5 years.

However, only 58% of countries submitted new or updated NDCs by the UN deadline of 30th July. This only covers 54% of global emissions and estimates say that the NDCs submitted so far put us on a trajectory of 2.4 degrees C warming, above the Paris Agreement limit of 2 degrees. And this is only if all those countries meet those NDCs - the current policies in place are projected to result in 2.9 degrees C warming by the end of the century, according to the Climate Action Tracker.

Therefore COP-26 is both an opportunity and a warning: if we fail to set more ambitious targets now and, crucially, back these targets up with short term action, it is unlikely we will be able to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement in 2015.

-Alex Wooster, year 12 student

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