Q&A: what is COP26?

In less than a month, the UK will co-host COP26, the global summit designed to help solve one of the world's most urgent problems: climate change.

What is COP26 in a nutshell?

COP26 is the United Nations' annual climate conference. COP stands for "Conference of the Parties". It is attended by people who signed the United Nations Framework (formed in 1994) and this is the 26th meeting. 

Essentially, it is a gathering of people from all over the world who join with the aim of agreeing actions to tackle the climate crisis. 

This year the UK is hosting it in Glasgow from 31 October until 12 November in partnership with Italy.

What’s up for discussion this year and what do I need to know about the Paris Agreement?

It’s time for the rules of the Paris agreement to be reviewed. The legally binding treaty was first adopted in 2015 by 196 Parties at COP21 in Paris.

The agreed goal is to limit global warming to “well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” with the aim of achieving a climate neutral world by 2050.

It is also agreed that every developed country should spend $100 billion a year on climate finance and commit to developing renewable energy from sources such as solar, wind and waves.

By 2020 COP, which was delayed due to Covid-19, countries were due to submit their plans for climate action, which are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Where do we stand on climate change?

With the publication of a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August, the UN’s chief described our current trajectory as a "code red for humanity”.

These last five years have been recorded as the hottest since 1850. The report warned of increasingly extreme heatwaves, droughts and flooding.

However officials have said we can prevent the world from warming up too fast if we can cut carbon emissions by 45% by 2030.

Communities and natural habitats must be protected .Countries and nations must protect their ecosystems – their plants, animals and other organisms.


Has the pandemic been an issue?

The pandemic has been a major disruption, not only because it has been put back by a year.

Many say the conference risks leaving out delegates who can’t attend because of slower vaccine roll outs in some parts of the world, for example Africa.  The Climate Action Network, a network of thousands of environmental non-governmental organisations, and the COP26 Coalition, a UK-based group, are among those to have called for a second postponement.

Meanwhile others argue the planet’s critical state requires immediate action. UK cabinet minister Alok Sharma, COP26’s president designate, posted on Twitter in September: “Climate change has not taken time off, which is why COP26 must go ahead in person in November”.

At the G7 in June the UK government said it would provide vaccines to COP26 delegates to registered participants who would otherwise be unable to get them.

Greta Thunberg, the Queen, President Biden...? Who will be there?

At COP25 in Madrid, the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg arrived by boat after a three week voyage across the Atlantic. But she had told the BBC she did not plan to attend the conference in Glasgow because she was concerned about the impact of Covid-19.

She subsequently said she would attend if the event is “safe and democratic”. It’s likely she will go via train from Stockholm to Glasgow, but she has stressed that not much change will come from this event.

She has said: “We know that change will not come from COP, from within these negotiations. The change will come when there are enough people outside on the streets demanding change.”

She has also criticised Scotland, saying it is not a world leader on climate change and is planning to expand fossil fuel infrastructure.

Other famous attendees include the Queen; the natural historian Sir David Attenborough, who has been named “COP26 People’s Advocate”, US President Joe Biden and Italian PM Mario Draghi.

What has this got to do with investing?

Investors will be watching with interest. While announcements could impact on their portfolios, investors can also play a role in the transition.

We have gathered the views of key people within our organisation in this article about investor expectations for COP26

At the start of the year, Schroders became a signatory to the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). It was also a founding member of the Net Zero Asset Manager Initiative, which launched in late 2020.

Hannah Simons, Head of Sustainability Strategy, explains: “Through both of these initiatives Schroders will be defining its long-term pathway to net zero. Actively encouraging companies to set a long-term emissions target and establish a plan to meet this is a key part of our commitment.

“As an example of the pressure we will apply to the companies we invest in, earlier this year we wrote to chairs of the FTSE 350 asking for them to publish transition plans in 2021, a process which Schroders is also undertaking. We are expanding our engagement to Europe and the US and are developing on our existing engagement and escalation plans.”

Schroders’ chief executive Peter Harrison has said: “Companies have a fundamental responsibility and imperative to reduce their impact on the planet and re-orient towards a decarbonised economy.”


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