COP26: What is the Glasgow climate conference and why is it important?

The UK is hosting a summit that is seen as crucial if climate change is to be brought under control.

The meeting in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November could lead to major changes to our everyday lives.

What is COP26 and why is it happening?

The world is warming because of fossil fuel emissions caused by humans.

Extreme weather events linked to climate change – including heatwaves, floods and forest fires – are intensifying. The past decade was the warmest on record, and governments agree urgent collective action is needed.

World is getting warmer graphic

For this conference, 200 countries are being asked for their plans to cut emissions by 2030.

They all agreed in 2015 to make changes to keep global warming “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels – and to try aim for 1.5C – so that we avoid a climate catastrophe.

This is what’s known as the Paris Agreement, and it means countries have to keep making bigger emissions cuts until reaching net zero in 2050.

What will be decided at COP26?

Most countries will set out their plans to reduce emissions before the summit starts – so, we should get a sense of whether we are on track beforehand.

But during the two weeks we can expect a flurry of new announcements.

Many are expected to be very technical – including rules still needed to implement the Paris Agreement, for example.

But some other announcements could include:

  • Making a faster switch to electric cars
  • Speeding up the phasing out of coal power
  • Cutting down fewer trees
  • Protecting more people from the impacts of climate change, such as funding coastal-defence systems.

Up to 25,000 people are expected in Glasgow, including world leaders, negotiators and journalists.

Tens of thousands of campaigners and businesses will also be there to hold events, network – and hold protests. Extinction Rebellion, for example, are calling for an immediate end to the use of fossil fuels.

At the end of the conference, some form of declaration is expected.

Every country will be required to sign up and it could include specific commitments.

Are there likely sticking points?

Expect a lot of talk about money and climate justice. Developing countries tend to pollute less per head of population and are not responsible for most of emissions in the past.

But they experience some of the worst effects of climate change.

Family in floodwater in Bangladesh

They need money to help reduce their emissions and to cope with climate change. It could mean more solar panels in countries that depend on energy from coal and flood defence systems.

There will also be a battle over compensation for developing countries affected by climate change.

Wealthy countries previously pledged $100bn (£720m) a year to help poorer nations by 2020. A UN assessment last year said the target was likely to be missed, so richer countries are being asked to commit more money.

Chart showing how much climate finance has been provided by developed countries in the last decade

China’s commitments at COP26 will also be very important. It is now the world’s biggest polluter and has investments in coal stations all over the world.

Many observers will be watching how quickly China – and other major fossil fuel producers – will be willing to reduce their reliance on them.

How will COP26 affect me?

Some commitments made in Glasgow could directly affect our daily lives.

For example, it could change whether you drive a petrol car, heat your home with a gas boiler, or take as many flights.

You will hear a lot of jargon

  • COP26: COP stands for Conference of the Parties. Established by the UN, COP1 took place in 1995 – this will be the 26th
  • Paris accord: The Paris Agreement united all the world’s nations – for the first time – in a single agreement on tackling global warming and cutting greenhouse-gas emissions
  • IPCC: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change examines the latest research into climate change
  • 1.5C: Keeping the rise in global average temperature below 1.5C – compared with pre-industrial times – will avoid the worst impacts of climate change, scientists say

How will we know COP26 is a success?

As host nation, the UK will likely want all countries to back a strong statement that recommits to net zero emissions by 2050 – as well as big reductions by 2030.

It will also want specific pledges on ending coal, petrol cars and protecting nature.

Developing countries will want a significant financial package over the next five years, to help them adapt to rising temperatures.

Anything short of this is likely to be judged inadequate because there simply isn’t more time to keep the 1.5C goal alive.

However, some scientists believe world leaders have left it too late and no matter what is agreed at COP26, 1.5C will not be achieved.

Climate change: Tracking China’s steel addiction in one city

Wuzhou, in southern China, is a living example of the country’s dependence on its “build, build, build” mantra to boost development. It was one of many contributors to China’s record output of a staggering one billion tonnes of steel last year.

But increasingly, cities like this are having to grapple with China’s climate change goals and the big question: will it cut emissions quickly enough?

“No, it (the development) won’t stop.”

The grandpa, playing cards with two friends in his blue shirt, was adamant. I was standing next to him in a corner of a recently constructed but mostly empty shopping mall. “Ten years ago… this was just barren mountains and ridges. It’s developed so well.”

The 68-year-old insisted that the environment and water were all good. “Everything is nice, especially the people. Everyone is happy.”

As we talked, his grandson played with a few friends in the centre of the mall. With red Communist Party scarves tied around their necks, they were building walls with multi-coloured foam blocks. The “build” mantra is in their blood.

China-Taiwan tensions: Xi Jinping says ‘reunification’ must be fulfilled

China’s President Xi Jinping has said that “reunification” with Taiwan “must be fulfilled”, as heightened tensions over the island continue.

Mr Xi said unification should be achieved peacefully, but warned that the Chinese people had a “glorious tradition” of opposing separatism.

In response, Taiwan said its future lay in the hands of its people.

Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, while China views it as a breakaway province.

Beijing has not ruled out the possible use of force to achieve unification.

Mr Xi’s intervention comes after China sent a record number of military jets into Taiwan’s air defence zone in recent days. Some analysts say the flights could be seen as a warning to Taiwan’s president ahead of the island’s national day on Sunday.

Taiwan’s defence minister has said that tensions with China are at their worst in 40 years.

  • EXPLAINER: What’s behind the China-Taiwan divide?

But Mr Xi’s remarks on Saturday were more conciliatory than his last major intervention on Taiwan in July, where he pledged to “smash” any attempts at formal Taiwanese independence.

Speaking at an event marking the 110th anniversary of the revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty in 1911, he said unification in a “peaceful manner” was “most in line with the overall interest of the Chinese nation, including Taiwan compatriots”.

But he added: “No one should underestimate the Chinese people’s staunch determination, firm will, and strong ability to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be fulfilled, and will definitely be fulfilled,” he said.

Mr Xi has said he wants to see unification occur under a “one country, two systems” principle, similar to that employed in Hong Kong, which is part of China but has a degree of autonomy.

But Taiwan’s presidential office said that public opinion was very clear in rejecting one country, two systems. In a separate statement, Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council called on China to abandon its “provocative steps of intrusion, harassment and destruction”.

Shortly before Mr Xi spoke in Beijing, Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang accused China of “flexing its muscles” and stoking tensions.

Presentational grey line

China and Taiwan: The basics

  • Why do China and Taiwan have poor relations? China and Taiwan were divided during a civil war in the 1940s, but Beijing insists the island will be reclaimed at some point, by force if necessary
  • How is Taiwan governed? The island has its own constitution, democratically elected leaders, and about 300,000 active troops in its armed forces
  • Who recognises Taiwan? Only a few countries recognise Taiwan. Most recognise the Chinese government in Beijing instead. The US has no official ties with Taiwan but does have a law which requires it to provide the island with the means to defend itself
Presentational grey line

Despite the recent heightened tensions, relations between China and Taiwan have not deteriorated to levels last seen in 1996 when China tried to disrupt presidential elections with missile tests and the US dispatched aircraft carriers to the region to dissuade them.

And while a number of Western countries have expressed concern at China’s displays of military might, US President Joe Biden said Mr Xi had agreed to abide by the “Taiwan agreement”.

Mr Biden appeared to be referring to Washington’s longstanding “One China” policy under which it recognises China rather than Taiwan.

However, this agreement also allows Washington to maintain a “robust unofficial” relationship with Taiwan. The US sells arms to Taiwan as part of Washington’s Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the US must help Taiwan defend itself.

In an interview with the BBC this week, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US will “stand up and speak out” over any actions that may “undermine peace and stability” across the Taiwan Strait.