What is COP26?
The 2020 meeting was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so the 26th COP will still take place this year (2022).
COP26 is the name of the annual United Nations climate change conference being held this year in Glasgow, Scotland. The abbreviation COP, means "Conference of the Parties," while the number indicates the number of years they have been held since the first meeting in Berlin in 1995.
With the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and mass production (around the middle of the 19th century), industrial gases began to increase dramatically on Earth. They are a byproduct of the production of almost everything from the heat and electricity we use to heat and light buildings to the agricultural products we eat every day.
Many of these gases have what we call a greenhouse effect. A greenhouse, as we know, lets in the sun's rays, which heat the earth, and then keeps this heat from escaping, as it were, by trapping it within its transparent walls.
Greenhouse gases dissolved in the atmosphere do exactly the same thing, only on a planetary scale. Methane, carbon dioxide (aka CO2), water vapor and other industrial emissions accumulate heat coming from the sun-heated earth and "don't let it go," slowly but surely frying you and me by increasing average temperatures across the planet.
And how much warmer is it already?
Almost continuous growth of emissions for a century and a half has led to an average temperature increase of about 1.1 degrees Celsius.
You would think, so what? What's the big deal, 1 degree - nothing!
But it really is very serious for two reasons. First, the ice is still melting at 0 degrees (and the sea ice is even slightly lower, almost at minus 2 degrees).
And this means that in northern and mountainous areas, which are covered with snow and ice for most of the year, or even stand on permafrost, even these 1-1.5 "extra" degrees may be critical.
Meltwater rushes down into the valleys and ends up in the World Ocean, which inevitably raises its level, flooding coastal areas.
Secondly, 1.1 degrees is a conditional "average hospital temperature". In reality, warming is very uneven: some parts of the planet warm up faster, some slower.
If the planet is warming, why is it so cold?
Modeling climate processes is incredibly difficult because there are so many different factors involved. As has already been said, the planet heats up extremely unevenly, so temporarily somewhere it may well get very cold (as happened, for example, in the winter of 2018-2019) - due to the disruption of the usual atmospheric circulation.
One of the main reasons is that the Arctic is warming much faster than other regions, since melting snow and glaciers there expose darker parts of the land and ocean surface. Consequently, they begin to absorb even more sunlight and get even hotter. The process speeds up.
Because of this, the temperature difference between polar and temperate latitudes is reduced, upsetting the centuries-old balance. Air and sea currents get out of rhythm and change direction, which inevitably affects the weather.
Therefore, as paradoxical as it may sound, one of the consequences of global warming could be very severe, abnormally cold winters.
What does this mean for us? How large is the scale of the expected catastrophe?
Over the past couple of decades, floods, landslides, hurricanes, prolonged periods of debilitating heat waves and other weather troubles have almost doubled in frequency.
If this process continues, the survival of mankind as a whole will be jeopardized, since the last few thousand years our ancestors lived in the comfortable conditions of a kind of "climatic niche" where the average annual temperature does not exceed 13-15 degrees.
Scientists warn: in the next couple of decades, extreme weather events caused by climate change threaten to turn a large part of the land into a scorched desert and destroy this niche - and maybe even make our planet uninhabitable at all.
That is why, by and large, we have no choice whether or not to reduce our emissions. The only question is how fast we can do it. There is very little time left: climate models built by scientists show that the so-called "point of no return," when most of the changes will become irreversible, can be passed already by 2030.
Why is it so difficult to find a way out of the crisis?
There are many right answers to this question, but two main points are particularly fundamental.
First, there is a widespread belief that the true causes of global warming are still unknown and scientists do not have enough evidence to build a causal link between industrial emissions and the changing climate.
This is a very common misconception. For a long time, science has indeed refrained from drawing unequivocal conclusions about the causes of global warming.
But the IPCC report, released in August, unequivocally concluded that such drastic climate changes would be impossible without taking human activities into account.
The total contribution of all natural factors combined to global warming is only about 0.02 degrees of the sought one and a half degrees - that is about 30-50 times less than observations show.
And second, the problem of climate change is global - in the truest sense of the word. We all live together in a greenhouse called Earth. And no one country, no matter how successful or wealthy, can solve this problem alone.
Even if we follow the example of Donald Trump and fence off our neighbors with a stone wall, it still will not be able to stop the air currents. So we will have to find a way out of the crisis together, in close cooperation with each other.
What is the "COP26 club" and why do we need it?
The CC is an abbreviation for the Conference of the Parties. This is the name of the annual summit, where representatives of 197 countries discuss massive climate change and try to agree on what conditions should be observed - both at the state and personal level - in order to prevent a global catastrophe.
The summit takes place within the framework of the UN Convention on Climate Change, an international treaty signed almost 30 years ago by all countries and territories of the globe (with virtually no exceptions) and aimed at limiting human impact on the climate.
COP26 will be the 26th such meeting since the treaty came into force on March 21, 1994. This year's meeting will take place in Glasgow, Scotland, from November 1-12.
Why is this particular summit in Glasgow so important?
COP26 will be the first summit to take stock of what has been done (and what has not been done) to solve the climate crisis since the signing in 2015 of the main regulating document in this area, the Paris Climate Agreement.
It outlines humanity's strategy to prevent a climate catastrophe, approved by the representatives of 175 countries.
All of them unconditionally recognize that if global warming continues and average global temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, a kind of "point of no return" will be passed: the catastrophic climate changes that have occurred over the past few decades will become irreversible.
For this strategy (or any other) to work, it must be adhered to - and this is exactly what COP26 is overseeing. The summit can be compared to a convention of delegates from around the world - to discuss tactical solutions and to make sure that all parties to the agreement are doing their part.
What does the Paris Agreement require?
Without going into detail, to summarize the essence of the document, all the countries that signed up to the Paris Agreement have pledged to meet the following conditions:
- reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- increase the production of renewable energy;
- do so in such a way that the global temperature increase can be kept "well below" 2°C, ideally to limit it to 1.5°C; and
- find billions of dollars to help poorer, developing countries cope with the effects of climate change.
At that time, it was also agreed that countries would monitor progress and take stock every five years. The first COP26 summit was supposed to take place last year, 2020, but because of the pandemic, it had to be postponed until 2021.
How much did the coronavirus pandemic help or hinder?
The pandemic broke the agreement, if only because the summit had to be postponed. But at the same time - by forcing the world to pause - it completely disrupted the course of life and gave us an unprecedented opportunity to rethink the economic recovery from the pandemic.
Do we really need to fly on airplanes that often? Could working from home reduce rush hour traffic emissions? Could it be a good time to engage in de-urbanization? And so on - there are tons of questions.
U.S. President Joe Biden reversed Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the country from the Paris Agreement, and the U.S. post-pandemic economic recovery plan focuses specifically on combating climate change.
At COP26, world leaders must set new goals and build new tactics to solve this problem-and those goals must be very ambitious.
What do leaders hope to achieve at the Glasgow summit?
The meeting will last almost two weeks, because each country has its own vision for many of the issues involved in solving the crisis - and overall, there are a lot of plans.
A lot of unresolved issues remain from the previous meeting in Madrid. Swedish activist Greta Tunberg timed her speech at the UN to coincide with the Madrid summit by accusing world leaders of inaction and saying that her generation was actually deprived of a future.
Her words, however, did not help countries to reach agreement on many controversial issues. For example, developing, island nations are the first to feel climate change. Rising sea levels are slowly flooding their territories, and droughts and prolonged periods of hot weather are causing crop failures.