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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