Inside COP26
BBC Wildlife|November 2021
The 26th annual climate conference will shortly take place in Glasgow. But this time, it’s more than just another summit
TARA SHINE
It may sound exotic to be travelling to Lima, Marrakech or Paris for a climate summit, but only one thing is certain about an event like this: it will involve two weeks of very hard work and very little sleep. Catching a few hours’ rest on an uncomfortable plastic bench while waiting for documents and agreements to come through; drinking terrible coffee from a machine to stay awake; laughing through the tiredness with colleagues and fellow negotiators from all over the world; spending long hours in small, hot rooms arguing over details, words and punctuation that signal what countries will do in the face of climate breakdown. These are just some of my memories of COP, the international climate summit that takes place every November.

This year, at least, I won’t have to travel far. As you have no doubt heard, the UK, in partnership with Italy, is hosting the 26th event – hence COP26 – and it will be held in Glasgow.

So what’s it all about? Well, COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’, and it’s the annual meeting of the countries that are members of the UN Climate Convention. These meetings have been taking place since the Convention was established in Rio in 1992. Each year, negotiators from almost every country in the world decide what actions need to be taken under international law to protect our climate system and keep humanity, ecosystems and wildlife safe. Their discussions are informed by science, by a carefully negotiated agenda of topics, and by the politics of the day. If you are interested in geopolitics, attending a COP is a great way to see power, influence and alliances at work.

More than 20,000 delegates from 197 countries will descend on Glasgow for COP26, alongside some 120 heads of state. Delegates are usually UN officials, negotiators representing their country (usually civil servants), and representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and inter-governmental organisations (IGOs) seeking to influence what those negotiators will discuss and decide. I’m lucky enough to have attended COPs wearing all of these hats, and to have borne witness to the many different perspectives, opinions and voices from all over the globe.

The fact that heads of state are attending COP26 is a nod to its importance. Have you noticed that in some years, COPs dominate the news, while in others, there’s barely a whisper of a story? This reflects the political significance of what is on the agenda. Some COPs are rather technical, developing rulebooks and metrics for various greenhouse gases, designing mechanisms to protect and restore forests, and creating plans to help everything from cities, farms and oceans to adapt to climate impacts. These technical COPs tend to fly under the radar, as do many other low-profile meetings that take place throughout the year to prepare for each summit.

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