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What is COP26 and why is it important?

11 Feb 2021

The global United Nations climate change summit COP26 will take place in Glasgow in November 2021.

Countries from across the world will meet to discuss climate change and how to tackle it.

SSE is a principal partner to the UK Government for the prestigious event that will help shape climate policy for decades to come.

In the coming months we’ll be running a series of articles, blogs and features looking at the issues at stake and the debates that are core to delivering a decarbonised future.

In the first of these we offer a COP26 explainer, looking at what it is and how countries across the world come together to take climate action.

For 25 years world leaders have met annually to attempt to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing mankind – climate change.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) states every country is “duty bound to avoid dangerous climate change and find ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

Officially known as the Conference of the Parties, COP is the most significant global climate change event to take place each year.  Unique in that the opinions and concerns of the poorest country carries equal weight to that of the biggest superpowers. Every country on earth, bar some failed states, is a signatory to the UNFCCC treaty – a remarkable achievement.

The UNFCCC appoints a host country each year to take on the mantel to lead negotiations on how we find an equitable way to share the burden the climate emergency presents.

The first COP was held in Berlin in March 1995 with one every year until last year’s event in Glasgow was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.  It will now take place at the Glasgow SEC campus in from 1 – 12 November 2021 and SSE is one of its principal partners.

We must keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

The impacts so far haven’t been evenly spread around the planet - and they won’t be in the future either.  Temperatures increase at different speeds everywhere but the strongest changes are happening in the Artic during its cool seasons and in areas closest to the equator during the warmest seasons.  More than one fifth of all humans live in regions that have already seen warming greater than 1.5 degrees

Keeping global warming to below this level is needed to avoid droughts in some parts of the world, floods and rising sea levels and waters in others, loss or extinction of species, extreme weather, food scarcity, damage to the rainforests and marine ecosystems – just to name but a few.

In recognition that only collaboration between countries can make a true impact, the run up to the event is a hive of negotiation.  Under the transformative Paris Agreement agreed at COP21, each country pledged to outline their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) - their individual efforts to reduce emissions.  These had to be reviewed for the period post 2020 and countries are now stating their intentions.

The UK COP26 President Alok Sharma will work with countries in the run up to the event which will culminate in over 200 countries and 30,000 delegates, including heads of state, coming together in Glasgow to agree on the final legal, institutional and administrative agreements each country will be held accountable for.

Based on this information, the COP assesses the effects of the measures taken by Parties and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention - to pursue efforts to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C.

The UK is the fastest country in the G20 to decarbonise its economy since 2000, cutting carbon emissions by more than 40% in the last 30 years. The UK Government was also the first country in the world to legislate for net zero by 2050, and the Scottish Government by 2045.  To achieve these targets massive cuts will still need to be made to carbon emissions.

This has given way to a raft of policy and legislative announcements aimed at reducing emissions - from ending the sales of petrol and diesel cars to massive increases in renewable energy targets and changing the ways in which we heat our homes and businesses.

In the context of the pandemic, this focus on net zero also gives an opportunity to “Build Back Better” as we emerge from coronavirus in the months and years ahead and the Government’s 10-Point-Plan and Energy White Paper have given a direction of travel.

Playing our part

Helping to achieve net zero by 2050 is at the core of SSE’s low carbon strategy that’s why our partnership with COP26 is so well aligned.

We are committed to working with governments and other stakeholders to help keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees.  The UK is showing great leadership on the world stage and with COP being held in our home country for the first time, we are proud to be playing our part in such a landmark event.