COP26: All you need to know

Cecilia Manghi

On October the 31st the 26th United Nations climate change conference, also called COP26, started in Glasgow. The convention was supposed to take place in 2020, but due to the pandemic situation, the decision was to postpone it to this year. Therefore, more than 40 countries of the almost 200 that are part of the UNFCCC assembled to talk about issues such as climate change control, emission reduction, and so on. The importance and the urgency of this event are conferred by the alarming levels of warming of our planet, as the past ten years were the warmest on record. This phenomenon results always more often in extreme weather episodes, such as floods, heatwaves, wildfires, snowstorms, and many others. But when and how was COP established? What are the COP26 objectives? Which reaction has this event aroused in the world? How are young people involved and contributing?

The background

In the 90s, the impact of humankind on the planet started to show its consequences. As a matter of fact, a slight increase of the temperature by 0,3-0,6 degrees in the previous century was noticed. As a consequence, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted by the international community in 1992, with the aim to put a stop to human activities threatening the climate system. The Conference of the Parties, its supreme decision-making body, gathers each year since 1995, when the first COP was held in Berlin. The most significant events that followed are the COP3 in Kyoto, where the decision to implement the Kyoto Protocol to cut the emissions of developed countries was taken; and the COP21, when the Paris Agreement was established. Thanks to this, 195 countries committed to maintaining global warming below 2° and to try to limit it to 1.5°. Moreover, every five years countries submit their Nationally Determined Contributions, with increasing emission reduction targets over time.

The objectives of COP26

Among the main goals set by COP26, there is the achievement of global net-zero by mid-century, and allow 1.5° to be a prospect for the future. But what does this mean? Essentially, by cutting greenhouse gas emissions and implementing projects to offset them, it would be possible to reach carbon neutrality, which entails reaching a balance between realizing carbon and absorbing carbon from the atmosphere in carbon sinks. Another critical objective of the conference is the pursuit of ways to motivate countries to defend and restore the ecosystem and to allow them to do so. Indeed, on the one hand, it wouldn’t be possible to reach net-zero without the protection and restoration of nature; on the other, even with emissions cuts, the ongoing climate change presents destructive repercussions. As a consequence, in order to prevent the loss of nourishment, homes, or lives, it is essential the development of resilient infrastructure, protection devices, and warning systems. COP26 aims also to ensure that developed countries keep their promise made in 2009 of delivering funding to developing countries for 100bn per year starting in 2020. This mobilization is essential for climate mitigation and adaptation in developing nations, which often suffer catastrophic damages due to natural disasters, with also fewer means to address them. The final objective of the conference is the cooperation to finalize the rulebook of the Paris Agreement, in order to make it fully operational and to obtain more commitments to urge and deliver climate action.

The strikes

While the world leaders are meeting to discuss environmental and public issues, and even before this gathering, protests not only in Glasgow, where the number of people reached about 100,000 but all over the world are taking place. People are asking more to global leaders in the fight against climate change and the message of Fridays for Future, one of the most relevant movements for climate action, is clearly stated on their website. A drastic cut in emissions, an equitable vaccine distribution in the recovery from Coronavirus, the assurance of rights to climate refugees, an end to violence against indigenous people and others, are some but not all of the requests they put forward. Greater attention to the Most Affected People and Areas (MAPA) is also asked, as they risk being left behind, marginalized, and sacrificed in the fight against climate change. Moreover, during the final days of COP26, young activists, including Greta Thunberg, are filing a petition to the UN secretary-general to declare a ‘systemwide climate emergency’.

Youth4climate: Driving Ambition

Young people are not only involved in protests and demonstrations but also, they had the possibility to actively contribute to COP26, for the first time ever in the UN climate negotiations. As a matter of fact, 400 youth climate leaders gathered in Milan, cohost of the Conference, in the “Youth4Climate” event from the 28th to the 30th of September, to discuss and elaborate a manifesto containing their proposals for climate action. The main themes addressed by young activists in their document comprise youth driving ambition, sustainable recovery, non-state actors' engagement, and climate-conscious safety. They then had the opportunity to take part in a conference with more than 50 ministers to debate their requests and ambitions.

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