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

A guide to COP26, the UN climate summit, which is taking place in Glasgow from 31 October-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.

Join the COP26 Day of Action for the Climate

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 31 October-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 will be a key moment for governments to show how they will keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, deliver money promised to countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis and to consign fossil fuels to history.

COP26 is also the first COP since the coronavirus pandemic began and comes at a time when governments are planning how to rebuild from the pandemic.

Pope Francis has warned that it would be "a scandal" if the money governments are spending to rebuild economies and save businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic "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".

Make sure the people hardest hit by the climate crisis are at the heart of the COP26 talks

Governments must commit to 'keep 1.5 alive'

Governments are 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.

Climate finance pledges must be met

Rich countries committed at COP15, the climate summit held in Copenhagen in 2009, to provide at least $100bn each year in financial support to the countries being hardest hit by the climate emergency.

This promise was supposed to have been met by 2020 but rich governments have yet to meet the $100bn pledge. 

Negotiators at COP26 must set out how the $100bn commitment is met and exceeded in future. 

Climate finance must also take the form of grants, rather than loans, to avoid worsening the debt crisis facing lower- and middle-income countries.

Leaders must consign fossil fuels to history once and for all

The G20 group of countries - who make up the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases - must collectively commit to consigning coal, oil and gas to history to keep temperature rises below 1.5C.

This means that countries such as the UK must close existing loopholes which allow fossil fuel development at home or overseas and must also rule out further fossil fuel development. 

Who is COP26 president?

The COP presidency rotates between different regions. In 2021, the UK and Italy will jointly host the climate conference.

Alok Sharma, who was previously Business Secretary and International Development Secretary, will be the COP26 President. Mr Sharma took over as 'President Designate' from Claire O’Neill, a climate minister under Prime Minister Theresa May who led the government’s work towards setting a net zero target in law.

The UK will take over the COP presidency 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.

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?

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. A small group of young CAFOD supporters will travel to Glasgow, while many more will take part in a march through London on 6 November urging world leaders to show ambition in the COP negotiations.

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

Take part in the COP26 march through London on 6 November

Pray for world leaders to make decisions at the COP which care for our common home 

Support CAFOD's Climate Crisis Appeal

What else is happening in 2021?

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

Finance ministers and heads of government from the G20 group of countries met in the weeks and days leading up to COP26, with important discussions on climate finance and phasing out fossil fuels due to take place.

Join CAFOD for the COP26 global day of action on 6 November

Back to top