COP26 and the climate crisis
After two weeks of intense climate change negotiations – what is the verdict on COP26?
COP26 was the 26th meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Glasgow in November 2021.
It was promoted as our world's last and best chance to tackle the climate emergency.
So – what happened?
Numerous negotiations, announcements and agreements were made by world leaders and thousands of participants from around the globe.
Some of these included:
- The Glasgow Climate Pact – setting the global agenda on climate change for the next decade. (However, it is not legally binding).
- The US-China agreement to tackle CO₂ emissions
- Promises by over 100 countries to stop deforestation and cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030
- Financial organisations agreed to back 'clean' technology such as renewable energy and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.
Insights from our experts
Now that the negotiating is done, what is the verdict on COP26?
Two of our world-leading experts have shared their personal opinions and insights into this historical event.
You can read them on our University Impact website:
Was COP26 a success?
Professor Dave Reay reflects on the successes of COP26 and where it fell short.
“It's clear that, while real progress was made, it was nowhere near enough. There were notable successes in terms of agreement on the 'rule book' that underpins the Paris Agreement, and strong multinational initiatives on tackling key issues such as deforestation and methane emissions. Ultimately though, COP26 fell well short of delivering the national commitments that would together limit warming globally to 1.5°C.”
Good COP or bad COP?
Professor Stuart Haszeldine shares his ‘on the ground’ insights to the working of COP26.
“Being there in person produced a lot of revealing moments. Incremental progress was made in Glasgow, but change needs to happen faster. The climate does not wait for politics, and it remains headed for an ever deeper crisis.”
UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) website
You can find out even more about COP26 on the official website, such as:
|UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) website|
The importance of COP26
The latest IPCC science reports include crucial contributions from our world-leading researchers. They reveal that humans are 'unequivocally' responsible for global warming.
With some of these changes now 'inevitable and irreversible for centuries to millennia', COP26 was seen as one of the most important climate summits in history.
We've provided the following guide below for you. Each section breaks down the essential points you need to know.
To see the information, simply click on each heading below:
The UN Climate Change 'Conference of the Parties' (called COP) has occurred every year since 1995. These annual two-week summits bring together world governments from 197 nations and territories that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The 26th event (known as COP26) took place from 1st to 12th November 2021. It was held in the UK for the first time, with Scotland's largest city, Glasgow, as host.
COP26 was a pivotal moment where people and societies, businesses, and governments commit to reducing carbon emissions, prepare for the impact of climate change, and try to prevent further irreversible damage to the planet.
The two-week conference involved representatives from more than 190 countries, including presidents, prime ministers and around 30,000 delegates reporting back on progress since the 2015 Paris Agreement. In addition, members of the press and observer organisations also attended to discuss the climate crisis on a global level.
Due to the importance of COP26, many high profile guests went to the summit. Greta Thunberg was one of the names among the attendees alongside David Attenborough, President Joe Biden and more.
COP26 was a critical summit for worldwide climate action. To have a chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach 'net-zero' by 2050.
There are several reasons why the summit was so important.
|1||2021 was the year in which all countries were asked to submit their new long-term goals to address climate change; so ambition to address the global climate emergency will be high on the agenda|
|2||It had to finish the work that COP25 was unable to achieve – setting out the rules for a carbon market between countries|
|3||From 2021 onwards, the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement will be the key driver of international climate action|
COP26 was viewed as the successor to the COP21 event in 2015, where the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was signed. Therefore, the summit addressed what has been achieved since 2015 while setting concrete plans to reach the Paris Agreement targets.
Strengthening the ability to adapt to climate change impacts was another crucial element of COP26, including dealing with unavoidable economic and non-economic harms known as 'loss and damage'.
A successful outcome for COP26 requires developed countries to honour a promise they made back in 2009 of mobilising $100 billion per year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for assessing climate change. The IPCC reports equip world leaders with the most authoritative and up to date summary on the Earth's climate. The COP summits use these reports as a baseline on the state of knowledge on climate change when making science and policy decisions.
As our world is reaching a tipping point in the climate crisis, the IPCC published their Synthesis Report of its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), in March 2023.
Crucially, this report was used to inform the discussions of world leaders at COP26.
We've provided more information on the role of the IPCC on our website:
Many of the findings in earlier reports have been strengthened and sharpened in this report. Importantly, the need for a limited carbon budget and transition to net-zero emissions has been confirmed, and the uncertainty around the climate sensitivity narrowed.
It shows with ever more clarity that the more we limit global warming by rapidly transitioning to net-zero emissions, the more we avoid moving into a dangerous world.
For the first time, the IPCC states unequivocally that humans are responsible for the observed warming of our planets atmosphere, land and oceans. Human activity is changing the Earth's climate in ways 'unprecedented' in thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of years.
In addition, some of these changes are now inevitable and 'irreversible for centuries to millennia'.
Within the next two decades, temperatures are likely to rise by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, which was the 2015 Paris Agreement target.
This means we are at a turning point in history. The IPCC reveals it is still possible to achieve the 1.5-degree-target, but only if we take unprecedented action now. These stark findings must force new policy measures as a matter of urgency to shift the global economy to a low-carbon footing.
Therefore, the UK's overarching aim for the COP26 summit is to 'keep 1.5°C alive'.
We are among the world-leading climate scientists who contributed to the IPCC reports, providing research-led reactions and solutions to the climate crisis.
For example, Professor Gabi Hegerl's seminal work has pioneered the method to detect the 'human fingerprint' on anthropogenic climate change, through combining observations and climate model simulations. Her method has become one of the central pillars of climate science.
Find out more:
|Starkest warning yet – what our research and the latest IPCC (AR6) report reveals||Our work on the IPCC (AR5) report - the foundation for the Paris Agreement|
The Paris Agreement is the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate change agreement. It was signed by almost all countries in the world at COP21 in Paris in 2015.
Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2°C, preferably to 1.5°C, compared to pre-industrial levels. It also aims to strengthen countries' ability to deal with climate change impacts and support them in their efforts.
Through the Paris Agreement, countries decide how much they will reduce their emissions by a particular year. They communicate these targets to the UNFCCC in the form of 'nationally determined contributions' or 'NDCs'.
The signatories of the Paris Agreement are expected to submit new and more ambitious NDCs every five years.
Therefore, COP26 was the first test of the success of this agreement.
Find out how our work underpinned the Paris Agreement
Our University was part of the COP26 Universities Network, a growing group of over 80 UK-based universities and research centres working together to raise ambition for tangible outcomes from the UN COP26 Climate Change Conference.
In addition, we have been contributing to annual COPs in four main ways:
- by presenting research
- through advocacy
- by observing negotiations
- by analysing the discussions for various audiences.
You can learn about our involvement in COP26 on our University website, or on social media using the hashtag #EdinUniCOP26.
Social Responsibility and Sustainability
The first of its kind in the UK, our University Department of Social Responsibility and Sustainability was created to help the University, our staff, and students deliver on its vision to make the world a better place by offering the most successful social responsibility and sustainability service in higher education.
We have also committed to becoming zero carbon by 2040. Our University's Climate Strategy lays out a comprehensive whole institution approach to climate change mitigation and adaptation to achieve our ambitious targets.