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What’s on the agenda for COP26?

The 26th Conference of the Parties, COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference – takes place in Glasgow this coming November. Today, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will launch the UK’s hosting of the summit alongside David Attenborough, hailing the summit as ‘an important opportunity for the U.K. and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change.’.

It’s some time away, but with climate change so high on the global political agenda, it is hotly anticipated. Indeed, COP26 seems to have supplanted Davos, the World Economic Forum’s annual glitzy get together, as the summit of the year – with Davos in January being a hat-tip to the more pressing issue of the day, the environment. World leaders in business and politics were more occupied with how the economies of the world can transition to a more climate friendly footing. A list of five key issues: climate breakdown; failure to adapt to climate change; man-made pollution; ecosystems in danger; and natural disasters, led the billing.

So with climate change top of the agenda, attention is turning to what COP26 can actually achieve. The fear is that, like COP25, it promises much but delivers on very little. In Madrid at last years’ summit, the frank but sad fact is that countries failed to make the progress needed in order to reach the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement – thrown into disarray by Donald Trump pulling the United States out of it.

COP25 needed a number of the strongest economies to make additional pledges of funding at COP25. According to the World Resources Institute, Countries also needed to decide whether and how the Paris Committee on Capacity-building and other UNFCCC bodies would continue to help countries close the capacity gap to turn the commitments into reality. However, the only country to actually increase their pledge to the fund was Ireland – which doubled its 2014 contribution.

The British Foreign Policy Group’s Katarina Kosmala-Dahlbeck argued on our blog that Britain can, and should, lead in the emerging foreign policy area of climate diplomacy. She said: 

“Taking a lead on the pressing issues of the day can give Britain an important role as a convener on foreign policy debates, and help us establish a position as a link between different parts of the world – from Europe to the United States and the Commonwealth. By making climate diplomacy, and climate aid, a defining feature of a forward-looking foreign policy, the UK can not only tone down the hypocrisy that has marred the debate, but carve out important relationships as it moves beyond Brexit.”

If the United Kingdom is to do so, then it’s absolutely imperative that COP26 is a success and builds quickly on the work of previous summits – rather than delivering much but promising little.

 At Davos, Ashim Paun, the global co-head of environmental, social and governance research at HSBC, said: “Will 2020 be an inflexion point (when it comes to the environment)? Our investor clients increasingly think climate change is absolutely core to their investment processes. So this year we look to major political and policy developments – the details of the EU green deal in March, the outcome of elections, particularly the US where we see the outcome as fairly binary for climate, and whether this year’s climate talks in Glasgow [in November] can regain previous momentum.”

Ensuring that COP26 is a success is, of course, easier said than done and the United Kingdom must put significant work in to achieve what it wants from the summit. Lobbying on key areas ahead of time, laying a clear framework for achieving ambitious policy goals, and setting an example by making significant headway on climate action at home are essential prerequisites. At the launch today, the Prime Minister is pledging to bring forward a ban on petrol and diesel-fueled cars by five years, from 2040 to 2035. This is a strong start, and suggests a real emphasis on achievement and ambition ahead of the November summit.

Quite rightly, climate change will continue to cement itself as the top issue in global politics until concrete action is taken – whatever that might look like. If the UK wishes to lead this charge, as it is well-placed to do as a convener of global conversations post-Brexit, then serious policy action must be made at COP26.


Matt Gillow

Matt is the Communications & Events Manager at the British Foreign Policy Group.