COP26 #1

What is it and why is it important?

William P Ball


October 18, 2021

This November COP26 is coming to Glasgow and I will be attending on behalf of the University of Aberdeen who have been given Official Observer status. This post is the first a series which I am planning to raise awareness about the conference, what I’ll be doing while I’m there and how climate change impacts on health and inequalities.

Below I’ll be answering some common questions ahead of some more substantive posts in the coming weeks.

What is COP26?

COP26 is 26th edition of the ‘Conference of Parties’ for the wing of the United Nations which is concerned with climate change. It’s a UN-led international meeting where countries will come together to review and negotiate global action. It was due to take place in 2020 but was postponed due to COVID-19.

This year, the United Kingdom is hosting the conference and attendees include national delegations from around the world, environmental charities & activists, research groups, trade unions as well as representatives from business and industry.

Many world leaders will be attending but the President of China (the country which is thought to be the biggest emitter of CO2) has already confirmed he will not and the President of Russia (the country which produces the most natural gas for energy use) has suggested he may not attend either.

Why is this one important?

These meetings take place each year but the 2021 edition is particularly important.

In 2015 attendees adopted the Paris Agreement at COP21. This included a commitment to keep global warming to under at most 2 degrees, but preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius. As part of the Paris Agreement signatories provided outlines of their national contributions and agreed to review and enhance these contributions every 5 years.

The COVID-19 pandemic delayed this process by a year but has also provided an opportunity for the global community to engage in a reassessment of the ways we structure our societies and economies which could result in a fairer, greener and more sustainable future.

What is an Official Observer?

The meeting itself is mainly designed to bring together member states but other groups are able to attend and provide external scrutiny to proceedings. Certain interested organisations are granted Official Observer status, meaning that they can attend the conference as well.

Observer organisations generally try to raise awareness about the proceedings, assess the commitments being made, highlight where parties are not being ambitious enough and generally apply pressure to do more.

I’m looking forward to being there in person and sharing my experiences with you. As a Registered Nurse and Health Inequalities Researcher, I also want to focus on the ramifications this meeting has for health and inequalities.

What are the chances of success?

Greta Thunberg was not optimistic about the conference and said “Nothing has changed from previous years really. The leaders will say ‘we’ll do this and we’ll do this, and we will put our forces together and achieve this’, and then they will do nothing. Maybe some symbolic things and creative accounting and things that don’t really have a big impact. We can have as many COPs as we want, but nothing real will come out of it.”.

Where can I find out more?

UN Climate Change Conference Official Website

If you liked this post, check out the 2nd in this series here.