COP26: What do world leaders want to achieve? Their four goals explained

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A cyclist pushes a bike over a footbridge near the COP26 climate summit venue in Glasgow on October 13, 2021. (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP) (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A cyclist pushes a bike over a footbridge near the COP26 climate summit venue in Glasgow (Photo by Andy Buchanan / AFP)

COP26 is an annual United Nations conference on climate change, which this year takes place in Glasgow on October 31 with Britain acting as President. 

It’s hoped that the UN conference will set out important new steps for hundreds of countries to deal with climate change. 

COP stands for Conference of Parties: this year’s is the 26th such conference, hence COP26. 

World leaders will attend alongside tens of thousands of negotiators, business leaders and campaigners for 12 days of talks. 

In Paris in 2015, 191 countries agreed to limit global warming to below 2 degrees and to aim for 1.5 degrees, which is known as the ‘Paris Agreement’.

Watch: What is COP26 and how will it affect the future of climate change?

Read more: Check out our environment hub page for all the latest COP26 news

The COP26 aims to secure more ambitious action from the countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement. 

Alok Sharma, President for COP26, said earlier this year, ‘COP26 is not a photo op or a talking shop. It must be the forum where we put the world on track to deliver on climate.’

Boris Johnson outlined the four goals of COP26 as ‘coal, cars, cash and trees’ - but here is a more detailed explanation of the conference’s official goals. 

1. Secure global net zero by 2050 and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

Countries have been asked to propose targets for reducing emissions by 2030 which will align with an overall goal of reaching net zero by 2050. 

Net Zero’ refers to a balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emitted and the amount removed from the atmosphere (by plants or by new technologies such as carbon capture). 

At ‘Net Zero’ the two statistics will cancel each other out meaning no new CO2 is added to the atmosphere. 

To achieve this, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that global emissions must fall by about 45% by 2030 from 2010 levels.

Read more: Why economists worry that reversing climate change is hopeless

Achieving ‘net zero’ by 2050 will give the world a good chance of limiting the rise in average temperatures this century to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times.

Under the Paris accord, nearly 200 countries pledged to keep warming to ‘well below’ 2C, and strive for a ceiling of 1.5C to prevent sea level rises and other negative impacts. 

This year is the deadline for countries to make steeper emissions cut pledges (called nationally determined contributions or NDCs).

Coal-fired power station silhouette at sunset, Pocerady, Czech republic
The phase-out of coal power will need to be accelerated at COP26 (Getty)

Among the measures countries will take will be accelerating the phase-out of coal.

Alok Sharma, UK president for COP26, said, "I've been very clear that I want COP26 to be the COP where we consign coal power to history." 

Other measures will include boosting electric vehicles: last year, Boris Johnson announced that Britain will ban the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars from 2035, five years earlier than planned.

Countries are also expected to announce measures to curtail deforestation and boost investment in renewables. 

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The climate is already changing, so one of the key goals of COP26 will be to adapt to changes caused by climate change. 

This will involve helping countries to deal with climate change impacts such as droughts and floods, while preserving natural ecosystems.

Governments have agreed to address the impact of climate change on developing countries, but so far there is no detail about liability or compensation, which will need to be settled at COP26. 

CALIFORNIA HOT SPRINGS, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near The Trail of 100 Giants overnight in Sequoia National Forest on September 21, 2021 near California Hot Springs, California. As climate change and years of drought push wildfires to become bigger and hotter, many of the worlds biggest and oldest trees, the ancient sequoias, have been killed. The giant trees are among the worlds biggest and live to more than 3,000 years, surviving hundreds of wildfires throughout their lifespans. The heat of normal wildfire of the past helped the trees reproduce but increasing fire intensity can now kill them. A single wildfire, the Castle fire, destroyed as much as 14 percent of all the worlds giant sequoias in 2020.    (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Wildfire in California in 2021 (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Countries will negotiate plans and finance for early warning systems, flood defences and resilient agriculture, to deal with climate change issues such as rising sea levels - including by building natural storm and flood defences. 

Countries will aim to produce an ‘Adaptation Communication’ to summarise what they are planning to do to reduce the impacts of climate change. 

3. Mobilise finance

A key goal at COP26 will be for developed countries to raise $100 billion a year to help developing countries deal with climate change. 

In 2009, developed countries agreed to raise $100 billion a year by 2020, but are still falling short. 

So far, developed countries are falling $20 billion a year short, with statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing that in 2019, developed nations’ governments raised $79.6 billion for vulnerable countries.

4. Work together to deliver

Perhaps the key challenge at COP26 will be to get hundreds of countries to work together on shared goals. 

So far, dozens of countries have failed to submit NDCs (nationally determined contributions) and the current plans which have been submitted are not enough.

Oil refinery with smokestacks releasing emissions into the atmosphere
Countries will have to work together to agree emissions plans (Getty)

The available NDCs of all 191 countries would equate to a 16% increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. 

There is also a lack of consistency between countries, with some countries having different timeframes for their pledges. 

Organisers hope to ‘accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.’

Watch: Who is Greta Thunberg?

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