© WWF / Richard Stonehouse

One last chance to avoid climate catastrophe

25 October 2021

This article originally appeared in The Circle: The Climate Crisis: There's No Going Back. The Circle shares perspectives from across the Arctic, and the views expressed here are not necessarily those of WWF. See all Circle issues here.

What is COP26?

The Conference of the Parties, or COP, is an annual meeting of the 197 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The talks are hosted every year by a different country with the aim of advancing global efforts to address climate change. The first COP meeting was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995. This year, the 26th conference (COP26) will take place in Glasgow from November 1 to 12, a year later than planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Paris Agreement resulted from COP21 in 2015. The agreement sets out targets to limit global temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

Where do the Paris Agreement targets stand today?

Although the Paris Agreement put climate change at the top of the agenda for many nations, no country has yet to meet its requirements to keep global warming well below 2°C. The Climate Change Performance Index is an annual report
that evaluates 14 indicators to track how well the 57 countries are addressing the climate crisis. Together, these countries account for 90 per cent of global emissions. Although Sweden, Denmark and Norway were three of the index’s top five performers in terms of climate action in 2021, two other Arctic nations—Canada and the US—were among the poorest.

Why is COP26 so important?

Many people view COP26 as the world’s last chance to avoid a climate catastrophe. The key aim of the meeting is to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5°C to avoid irreversible ecological consequences.

The meeting will be the first COP to discuss whether enough has been achieved since the landmark Paris Agreement six years ago. It is also the first meeting since the US re-joined the agreement.

What should we look for?

Because the burning of fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to emissions, an agreement to phase out coal-burning would be a major achievement. The UK is expected to call on all countries to set ambitious targets to reduce the quantity of greenhouse
gases going into the atmosphere by 2030, and to achieve “net zero” (no more going into the atmosphere than is removed) by 2050.

Richer countries will also be asked to honour the financial pledge they made at COP15 in 2009 to help the poorest countries reach their targets by providing US$100 billion a year by 2020—a pledge they have failed to honour.