Kathryn Brown, The Wildlife Trusts’ director of climate change action, reveals why COP26 is such a vital moment in the fight against the climate crisis.

COP26 is nearly upon us, having been delayed from 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. You may have heard it referenced in the news or even in passing on the street, but the name gives little away. So, if you remain no wiser as to what it actually is, we’ve tried to explain here!

What is COP?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties, the term given to a range of global conferences that cover different United Nations conventions (or UN ‘organisations’). In this case, COP26 is the 26th meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was created in 1992. The first meeting of the Convention (COP1) was held in 1995 and there has been a COP every year since (with the exception of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

What has COP achieved in the past?

Two notable COPs you may remember hearing about were held in Kyoto in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was signed off. That agreement pledged greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets from developed countries, up to 2020; the first time such an agreement had ever been reached. And in 2015 in Paris, the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement, was completed. Now the Kyoto Protocol period has ended, the Paris Agreement implementation period must begin. 

COP26 is going to be all about the implementation of the Paris Agreement, with the aim to ensure that enough global action is happening to keep global temperature increase to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. This is the aim of all of the Parties to the Convention, nearly 200 countries (rather than just developed countries, as was the case for the Kyoto Protocol).

2015 Paris Agreement graphic

What do we want to achieve from COP26?

This COP is not about getting a new global deal, despite what some of the media coverage has implied.  We have a global deal – the Paris Agreement – and this COP is about whether countries are doing enough on their pledges, both on reducing emissions and in adapting to the effects of climate change that are now unavoidable and already happening. There is a real sense of urgency for this COP because we know from climate scientists around the world that we are running out of time to reverse the escalating climate crisis. 

Despite the pledges and action to date, global greenhouse gas emissions are still increasing, and with them, concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which is changing our climate at a very fast rate. The global scientific consensus on climate change is set out in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and their latest report is clear. Global warming of at least 1.5°C is now largely inevitable, and to keep temperature rise from increasing further, greenhouse gas emissions must start to fall rapidly, now. This COP is so important because there needs to be an acceleration of action from all countries to do just that. And alongside, there will be calls to do more on adaptation, including increasing finance for developing countries which are bearing the brunt of climate change impacts so far.

Extreme heat graphic

How you can keep up to date with all things COP26

There will be tens of thousands of people attending COP; both national delegates who will negotiate on behalf of each country, and observers. We will be there representing The Wildlife Trusts as observers, and doing three things:

  • Hosting a daily update for all of our members and the wider public, to explain what is going on at COP26 and how it relates to our work to protect nature.

Sign up to receive daily emails with these updates

  • Hosting a very special WildLIVE event called ‘Let Nature Help’ on the middle Sunday of COP (7th November at 8pm) to discuss how important nature’s role in addressing climate change is; as well as the importance of taking action to tackle climate change to protect nature.

Sign up for your free spot to attend

  • A small Wildlife Trust delegation will be on the ground at COP26 to get our messages across at different events and ensure that we are visible amongst the debate.

Our goal for COP26 is to put nature recovery at the heart of increased ambition on climate change; in the UK and globally; and on both mitigation and adaptation. We have published an updated version of our Let Nature Help report that sets out the specifics of how we want to see nature and climate integrated in the COP discussions.  We’ve also lots of resources on climate change, and its impact on nature, for you to browse and use yourself, as well as top tips for reducing your carbon footprint. 

View our tips to reduce your carbon footprint

I last attended the COP as a negotiator back in the period between 2003 – 2005 (COP9, 10 and 11).  Some things won’t have changed, including the complex format to the negotiations, which is inevitable when 200 countries are trying to reach agreement.  But some things may change this time around. We may finally start to see the real change in global ambition that is needed to get greenhouse gas emissions on a downward trajectory. We may see adaptation to climate change and support for developing countries getting equal billing as a top priority. And, we may see real recognition that the twin crises of climate change and nature loss must be tackled together.  We’ll be keeping you posted.