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What should we expect from COP26?

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, is taking place in late October and early November. Here’s what you need to know.

Forget Glastonbury, Coachella, or even the Olympics, everyone knows what the biggest event of the year is – COP26.

It may be less flashy than the world’s major music and sports festivals, but the 2021 United Nations Climate Chance Conference is a very big deal. COP26 will incorporate nations from three previous conferences into its meetings, including the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. 197 signatory parties in total are involved.

Nations aim to determine how they will honour the goals outlined at the 2015 Paris agreement, as well as set out clear, concrete plans for moving forward into this decade. All countries need to commit to ‘reaching net-zero emissions as soon as possible’ with ‘significant cuts by 2030’.

It is taking place in the UK this year, with David Attenborough serving as the People’s Advocate. Check out his announcement video below.

What should we expect from the meetings?

This year’s event is being considered a ‘successor to COP21’, and will be used to address what has and has not been achieved thus far since those original promises in 2015.

The UKs aims as host are four-fold. The first is to push all countries to set net zero emission targets, and set further goals for 2030.

Additionally, it wants to formulate plans for countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, lessening the potential for human disaster, which is probably worth thinking about given the state of our weather patterns over the last few years.

It also wants to encourage rich nations to provide financial backing to poorer parts of the world, helping them cut back on emissions and create greener ways of producing energy.

Finally, the UK is pushing for civil society to take stronger roles in climate talks, and is encouraging the general public to be more involved and active in discussions, hence David Attenborough’s involvement.

So, expect plenty of discussion around financial aid, adaptation solutions, and realistic targets that can keep things below the dreaded 5C threshold for global temperature increases. The less likely we are to cook Earth up into a fiery, nightmare-fuelling dystopia, the better.

How urgent are the talks this year?

COP26 couldn’t come at a more urgent time in modern history, to put it frankly. We’ve seen real-time consequences to global temperature increases become more prominent over the last decade, making rapid action vital.

Whether it be continual, routine forest fires, record-breaking hot days every year, or flash flooding, extreme climate events are becoming the norm. Just this year alone Canada saw heat waves of near 50C, breaking previous highs from 1937.

Climate scientists are warning us that we have to do something significant soon if we’re to avoid worst case scenarios. While fossil fuel consumption did dip slightly in 2020, carbon emissions continue to rise every year.

Even a brief glance at the facts and reports indicates that not enough is happening and politicians around the world are failing to fully get a grip on their pollutive actions.

The UN Paris agreement in 2015 presented very ambitious and potentially unattainable goals for climate emissions, most of which have yet to be remotely honoured.

As TIME recently mentioned, the global average is now already 1.2C above pre-industrial levels. Temperatures rise by roughly 0.2 – 0.25C each decade, giving us only a handful of years to keep things below the original 1.5C increase goal.

COP26 will be a hugely important moment to outline the next decade of challenges, plans, and meaningful change, and will need to offer more than just lofty promises.