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What is COP26 and why is it important?

COP26 is the annual UN climate summit that brings together world leaders and negotiators of 197 nations and territories. COP means ‘Conference of Parties’, referring to the countries, or ‘parties’, that are part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This year’s COP is particularly important as negotiations around implementing the Paris Agreement, the global blueprint for climate action, have lagged since its signing during COP21 in Paris, France, in December 2015. Countries were supposed to come up with their individual action plans through Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), but the lack of formal implementation guidelines has caused a huge gap in terms of how these should be designed in the first place. The finalization of the Paris Agreement Rulebook is expected to fill this gap, and bring clarity as to what information an NDC should contain, what measures are allowed and not allowed, and how progress is reviewed. During COP25 in Madrid, Spain, major roadblocks to the finalization of the Paris Agrement Rulebook were experienced particularly in terms of Article 6 that deals with carbon trading, and the global carbon market.

The world is now at a crucial tipping point in taking urgent action for a stable climate while dealing with socio-economic impacts brought about by the global pandemic. It is an opportune time build back better towards just transitions, and more sustainable policies like the European Green Deal. This year also marks the return of the USA to the Paris Agreement, after newly inaugurated President Joseph Biden signed an executive order reversing the country’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

As it stands, commitments in 190 NDCs submitted put us on a track to 3 degrees Celsius of warming or more. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported in 2018 that we need to limit warming much further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Only 30 countries have net-zero emission targets, and only 27 have long-term strategies to reduce GHG emissions. In addition, a stronger push is needed to mobilize  $100 billion a year in climate finance to support climate action in developing countries, and to enable justice through ‘Loss and Damage’ measures via the Warsaw International Mechanism in areas impacted by climate change. 

Clear direction and inspiration is expected from the UK which hosts this year’s conference. The country is known for championing several science-based climate policies, as well as being the fastest G20 country to decarbonize its economy since 2000. The UK is supported by co-host Italy.

Who can participate in COP, and how?

There are two kinds of zones/sessions in COP: the Blue Zone for government institutions, and the Green Zone for non-government organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). The nature of the presentations and events varies according to zone. Access, whether Green or Blue, affords an organization the opportunity to host events within or near the COP venue.

A NGO/CSO must register with the UNFCCC as an observer before they can send representatives to the Green Zone. This registration process normally takes a year, meaning those seeking observer status for COP26 in November 2021 must have submitted their application in 2020. The complete list of organizations with observer status can be viewed here.

In addition to the COP event itself, there are Regional Climate Weeks throughout the year, and Pre-Cop Summits that are expected to generate greater climate ambition during the lead-up before November. Registration and program details for the Regional Climate Weeks an be found on the official website. Organizations may submit applications to host events or engagements for the Pre-COP Summit in Milan here until 15 June. Young people who wish to represent their country in the Pre-COP Summit for youth can apply here until 28 February.