UN climate summit: What is COP26 and why is it important?

A guide to COP26, the UN climate summit, which is due to take place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021.

Around 30,000 people were estimated to have taken part in COP25 in Madrid

Around 30,000 people were estimated to have taken part in COP25 in Madrid

What does COP26 mean?

COP26 is the annual UN climate conference. A ‘COP’ means ‘conference of parties’.

Governments and negotiators from across the world will travel to the meeting to discuss how to keep temperature rises below dangerous levels and prevent the climate crisis from causing even worse catastrophes for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

The COP is a summit of all the countries which are part of the UN’s climate change treaty, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change or ‘UNFCCC’. There are 197 members of this process and they are known as ‘parties’ to the treaty.

Urge Boris Johnson to put people hardest hit by the climate crisis at the heart of COP26

Where and when is COP26 being held?

The COP26 location is the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow, Scotland. The conference has been rearranged to take place between 1-12 November 2021 following the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK, as the host country, will hold the COP presidency.

A number of events are scheduled to be held ahead of the COP, including in Italy, which is co-hosting the summit with the UK.

The Glasgow COP climate talks will be the 26th of these conferences.

Why is COP26 important?

COP26 is critical because it is the first COP since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Governments are now planning how to rebuild from the pandemic and it is vital that these plans are based around the need for a global green and just transition.

Pope Francis has warned that it would be "a scandal" if the money governments are spending to rebuild economies and save businesses "were to focus on rescuing those industries that do not contribute to the inclusion of the excluded, the promotion of the least, the common good or the care of creation".

Governments are also obliged to set out more ambitious goals for ending their contribution to climate change under the Paris Agreement. A number of countries have begun to do so, including the UK.

Countries agreed to do this at COP21, the climate conference which took place in 2015 in Paris. Governments' climate commitments are known as ‘nationally-determined contributions’ or ‘NDCs’ and are pledges made by countries themselves on the size of the cuts in emissions they will make themselves. 

Countries pledged at the Paris climate talks to work to keep temperature rises below 1.5C. If the world warms more than this threshold, millions more people in the most vulnerable communities around the globe will suffer from devastating droughts, storms, floods and other impacts of climate change.

The UK will host the COP in 2021. It will take over from Chile which was the official host of COP25, even though the conference itself was held in Madrid in Spain. The UK government has the opportunity to lead the way in pushing for other countries to set more ambitious climate goals.

Urge the Prime Minister to make sure those hardest hit by the climate crisis are heard at COP26

Is COP26 cancelled due to coronavirus/COVID-19? 

It was announced on 1 April 2020 that COP26 will be postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. COP26 will now take place between 1-12 November 2021.

Neil Thorns, Director of Advocacy at CAFOD, said:

“We have to urgently get back on track with tackling the climate emergency now that we know when COP26 will be taking place.

“As we prepare to rebuild from the coronavirus crisis, the government must press reset on our economy to put people’s welfare, the planet and nature at its heart.

“The UK has the knowledge, expertise and ability to achieve this and in doing so could genuinely lead a COP26 fit for our time.”

Who is COP26 president?

The COP presidency rotates between different regions. In 2021, the UK and Italy will jointly host the climate conference and the UK’s Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, will be the COP26 President.

Mr Sharma was previously the International Development Secretary and takes over from Claire O’Neill who was Climate Minister under Prime Minister Theresa May and led the government’s work towards setting a net zero target in law.

What will happen at COP26 climate talks?

COP26 will be the largest gathering of world leaders ever to take place on British soil. Many thousands of other people will also gather for the COP, both inside and outside the conference centre.

Inside the conference, delegates such as politicians, diplomats and campaigners will hold formal and informal discussions. Businesses and civil society organisations such as charities will also contribute as observers to the COP process and with meetings called ‘side-events’ which will take place around the COP premises.

Discussions at COP26 are likely to focus on whether the commitments made by countries to cut emissions will be enough to halt dangerous temperature rises and get the world on track to reaching ‘net zero’ as soon as possible. The UK government set a 2050 net zero target after calls from campaigners up and down the country, including thousands of CAFOD supporters.

Negotiators will also discuss plans to provide climate finance support to countries worst hit by the climate crisis and how to help countries adapt to climate change impacts.

Outside the conference, thousands of campaigners will put pressure on COP delegates to show the ambition needed to urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions. Various events are planned, including large marches and demonstrations. More than 500,000 people were estimated to have joined a march in Madrid during COP25.

More than 500,000 people took part in a march through Madrid during the COP25 climate talks

More than 500,000 people took part in a march through Madrid during the COP25 climate talks

How can I attend COP26?

Thousands of campaigners from around the world are likely to travel to Glasgow for the COP, with many planning to undertake their journey as a pilgrimage to pray for the success of the climate talks.

Details for how to attend COP26 as part of a CAFOD group will be published as soon as possible.

What can I do to tackle the climate crisis ahead of COP26?

The UK has a key role in ensuring the COP26 talks are a success. Sign our petition to the Prime Minister and urge Boris Johnson to make sure communities most vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis are at the heart of the talks.

Read about the young climate leaders taking action to fight the climate emergency in their communities around the world and see how you can act to tackle the climate crisis in your own community.

What else is happening in 2021?

The UK is also hosting the G7 summit between 11-13 June 2021, when heads of government from seven of the world's richest countries will meet to discuss plans for a global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The G7 meeting will be a key moment for world leaders to cancel unjust debts and tackle the climate crisis.

Tell the Prime Minister to push for ambitious outcomes from COP26

Back to top