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The Road to Glasgow

What exactly is COP26, and why does it matter?



You’ve been hearing a lot about the global COP26 meeting lately. You’ve been hearing even more about the Australian government twisting themselves in knots over it. But what is exactly COP26? And why is it being described as the most important meeting ever held on carbon emissions and climate?


The basics first. COP stands for “Conference of Parties” and it’s the key annual United Nations meeting on climate. It’s been going for a while; COP1 was held in Berlin back in 1995. Glasgow will be COP26 and is due to begin on October 31. There’ll be 192 countries in attendance including 120 world leaders like Boris Johnson and Joe Biden. Scott Morrison is unlikely to attend (“Hey, has anyone seen that fella from Down Under?”). Each of the countries present an update on their individual climate plans, but it’s what happens collectively beyond that is the really important part.


Back in 2015, the Paris Agreement was the first (and last) major consensus between nations on climate. The agreement was to limit global warming to a maximum of 2ºC, with an aspirational target of 1ºC. Paris was an agreement, not a plan. That responsibility lay with the individual countries. Paris was also non-binding, as Donald Trump was only too happy to demonstrate by immediately pulling the U.S. out of it once elected. But Paris also agreed to revisit targets every five years, which is where we find ourselves now.


There is a sense of urgency with COP26. The International Energy Agency report released in May was a wake-up call. The usually conservative group painted a narrowing path to net zero and 1.5ºC gobal warming that involved stopping all new oil and gas development immediately, a tripling of investment in renewable energy by 2030, and no new petrol cars after 2035. That was just the start.



“The lofty goal for Glasgow is to pull together the competing interests of nations and form a binding agreement that gives the world a shot...”



There’ll be a lot on the table at Glasgow. Coal. Fossil fuels in general. China (who is now the world’s biggest polluter). The U.S.. Renewables investment. Climate justice – developing nations pollute less and suffer more. The lofty goal for Glasgow, however, is to pull together the competing interests of nations and form a common interest and a binding agreement that gives the world a shot at keeping warming below 1.5ºC.


Just how difficult that is likely to be is currently being seen here in Australia, where the ruling Liberal-and-National-coalition government is arguing amongst itself about what Australia’s position on net zero should be, let alone how we are going to get there.


Banner image – A hazard-reduction burn off Mount Solitary in the Blue Mountains, NSW, back in 2018. Photo: Ben Sanford.

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