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COP26 - What it is, why it matters and what to expect

Initially scheduled for November 2020, delayed in light of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, will be held from 31 October - 12 November in Glasgow.

This event has drawn a lot of attention because it could be our last chance to get climate change under control. The past years were the warmest on record and all governments agree urgent collaborative action is required.

What is COP26?

Established by the United Nations (UN) in 1992, the Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together almost every country in the world to address issues related to climate change. This year the 26th annual summit will take place, and the UK is hosting the event as President.

The conference will be attended by world leaders but also by representatives from civil society, business environment and international organisations.

Why is COP26 important?

Since the 1990s, climate change has increased in importance to become a top global priority. At the 21st COP event, which took place in Paris 2015, all participating countries agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2°C – and ideally to 1.5°C.

Carbon dioxide emissions and increasing energy generation from renewable sources were also a point of discussion.

The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submitted at COP21 weren’t ambitious enough to limit global warming to below 2 degrees, far less 1.5 degrees.

COP26 is shaping up to be the most significant conference since Paris. All 200 participating nations are being asked to report on how they will tackle their carbon emissions and agree on a new emissions path. The recently published IPCC AR6 confirmed that global emissions must halve by 2030 and reach ‘net-zero’ by 2050.

At this conference, governments will submit new NDCs and, when put together, these should be ambitious enough to put the world on track for below 2 degrees warming.

As of September 2021, 86 countries have submitted new or updated NDCs to the UNFCCC. Around 70 countries are yet to communicate new targets.

What to expect?

Key negotiations, critical decisions, a lot of talk about money and climate justice. It is hoped that four key aims will be achieved in Glasgow:

  • Net-zero by 2050 and 1.5 degrees within reach

  • Strategies to protect communities and natural habitats

  • Unlock funding to secure net-zero by 2050

  • Ensure everyone is joining this global effort

As a host nation, the UK will likely push all nations to set net-zero emissions targets and commit to significant reductions by 2030. Additionally, wealthy countries are encouraged to provide financial support for other countries to help them cut back on emissions and create greener ways of producing energy.

Finally, the UK is encouraging the general public to be more involved and active in climate change discussions.

COP26 and the Built Environment

The construction and real estate industry has a significant impact on the net zero goals and at the same time faces a great opportunity – to play a key role on our transition to a healthy, sustainable and low carbon future.

It is expected that there will be a clear demand for more impactful actions. We will see many businesses commit to action, report on their progress and even raise their levels of ambition on net-zero goals. There will also be various businesses showcasing best practice in delivering solutions that contribute to a net-zero future.

For stakeholders in the built environment, the issue of net-zero is expanding, becoming a mainstream conversation that can no longer be avoided.

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