The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, delayed from 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, is scheduled to take place in early November, 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. The Climatographers, developers of this COP-26 MicroSite, have attended some 15 COPs. We won’t be in Glasgow, but we will be following it closely.

COVID-19 could still throw a wrench into the COP-26 proceedings, but there are already huge expectations for the COP. There are several factors making COP-26 such a big deal:

  • There is a growing sense that “time is running out” to make real progress on climate change. Famous naturalist and film-maker David Attenborough recently stated, “We’ve been saying it for years, but COP-26 really is our last chance to avoid climate catastrophe.”

  • A global protest movement, largely led by youth groups, is demanding more aggressive action against climate change. Climate COPs are the only venue where this movement comes together globally, and it will have been two years since the last opportunity to do so.

  • The United States will have rejoined the Paris Agreement, and will want to make a big show of again being part of the global climate community.

  • COP-26 is the 5th COP since the Paris Agreement was signed at COP-21 in Paris. Countries are supposed to review and report on their progress towards limiting climate change to “substantially less than 2o C,” and strengthen their national commitments accordinaly. In practice progress towards the Paris Agreement goal has been quite limited, and COP-26 will have to grapple with that fact.

  • As a result of the weaknesses of the Paris Agreement, a push is being made in advance of COP-26 to establish a Net Zero Club coalition of countries, regions, and even private sector companies to commit to a 2050 net zero target. The idea is that the Net Zero Club would lead the way towards a more rapid low carbon transition, and hopefully trigger political and economic tipping points that would pull the rest of the world along.

  • Countries had committed to devote $100 billion to “climate finance” by 2020, and COP-26 will be where a lot of discussion of climate finance will occur. Expect many observers to argue that the target has not been met.

  • Market mechanisms have been a key part of global efforts to tackle climate change, and Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change deals with those mechanisms. Past COPs have failed to achieve final agreement on the implementation of Article 6, and so it is again on the agenda at COP-26. Big questions remain about the role carbon offsets will be able to be used by countries to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement, and by companies to meet their new “net zero” commitments.

All of these factors will contribute to what is likely to be a (socially distanced?) media circus in November 2021. There will be a blizzard of official and non-official documents and reports released prior to and at COP-26, probably numbering in the hundreds. Because we “must solve climate change,” there will be greater pressure than ever for COP-26 to be able to be portrayed as having done so. But there is a reason this is COP-26; it is not easy to make real progress on the topics that will be on the COP-26 agenda. While it’s easy to say we “must solve climate change,” we’ve been saying that for years. As a result, to really understand what COP-26 will actually mean for climate change it will be key to read carefully between the lines both in the lead-up to the Conference and the outcomes of the Conference.

We’re always looking to improve or expand on the insights organized above. If you have comments or suggestions, let us know!

To more closely track COP-26, visit our larger COP-26 Climate Site, where you’ll also be pointed to key documents and resources allowing you to dig deeper into topics that interest you.

You can explore other 1-page climate change issue briefs here.