COP26 and the Paris Agreement


The United States officially re-entered the Paris Agreement on February 19th, 2021 after the Trump administration reversed the decision to become a signatory. The next Conference of Parties (COP) is scheduled for November of 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. EARTHDAY.ORG's Climate Literacy Campaign seeks compulsory climate education in primary and secondary schools worldwide and is asking for global leaders to solidify their commitments to implementing ambitious education system change at COP26.

The content below will help you gain a better understanding about what the COP meeting is and how our campaign fits into the Paris Agreement.

Conference of Parties

A Conference of Parties, or COP, is the decision-making governing body of an international convention. Conventions cover a range of topics, many of them pertaining to environmental issues. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are a few examples of environmental conventions that have hosted COPs. Conventions focused on human health and safety have also hosted COPs, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. A COP is hosted for global leaders to review and adopt measures like international agreements or treaties to implement the goals of the convention.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international convention with a primary goal of “preventing dangerous human interference with the climate system.” The UNFCCC was adopted in 1992 at the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Brazil. After receiving fifty ratifications in 1994, the UNFCCC Treaty went into effect. The next year in March of 1995, the first COP was held in Berlin, Germany. The COP was started to review the convention and add new policies to it whenever the Parties saw fit. Today there are 197 countries and territories (known as Parties) that have signed onto UNFCCC. The UNFCCC sets greenhouse gas emission goals, directs funds to climate change projects, and collects emissions and policy reports from the Parties. Since 1995 the COP has met every year, excluding 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Unless a Party offers to host the conference, the COP is held in Bonn, Germany, where the seat of the secretariat resides.

Heads of state and heads of government represent their countries at the COP. For example, a senator from Quebec represented Canada at COP25 and former Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the United States at COP26. Often ministers are appointed as representatives for their country, likely the Minister of Environment or Minister of Foreign Affairs.

While the official COP event is a meeting specifically for government representatives, many side events take place within a 2 week period of the meeting where outside stakeholders can gather and collaborate. Non-profits, youth groups, civil society groups and other stakeholders that are registered observers can attend side events and network with other attendees.

COP26, or the 26th Conference of Parties for the UNFCCC, is the next scheduled meeting to take place in Glasgow, Scotland. The meeting was originally scheduled for November 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was rescheduled for a year later in November of 2021. At this summit, a few issues that were not resolved in the last COP will be discussed. Some of these issues include carbon market mechanisms, which would allow countries to purchase carbon credits from another Party that would allow them to emit beyond their allotted amount. This also determines how vulnerable countries that experience loss and damages due to climate change will receive financial aid, and how nature can become a solution for absorbing carbon. These negotiations will take place over two weeks. The first week, government officials debate technicalities, followed by Head of State and Ministerial meetings, which produce the final decisions.

EARTHDAY.ORG’s work is in support of Action for Climate Empowerment or ACE. Included in Article 12 of the Paris Agreement, the “overarching goal of ACE is to empower all members of society to engage in climate action, through education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues.” And while ACE covers all aspects of education and outreach for all ages, we focus our efforts on the education of youth ages 6 to 18 in formal school systems.

In Madrid at COP25 in 2019, EARTHDAY.ORG organized a press conference with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs vice minister of Mexico, the Education Minister of Italy, the Pope’s representative on youth and education, Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kathleen Rogers, president of EARTHDAY.ORG.

The message was that the time for heightened ambition on climate and environmental education is now.

EDO and our partners are working to catalyze international support for strong outcomes on climate and environmental literacy at the UN climate conference (COP26) in Glasgow. One that ensures all nations are firmly committed to requiring that all students experience mandatory and high-quality climate and environmental education, coupled with civic education that meets the challenges and opportunities unfolding in the 21st century.

Learn more about our Climate and Environmental Literacy Campaign and sign the letter to the UNFCCC.

Paris Agreement 101

The Paris Agreement was adopted at the 21st Conference of Parties in December of 2015, which was attended by the signatories to the UNFCCC, although it did not enter into force until November 4th of 2016. The main goal outlined in the agreement is to keep the global average temperature at least 2℃ below pre-industrial levels, with the ideal goal of keeping the global average temperature at 1.5℃ below pre-industrial levels.

In order to reduce global temperatures, the Paris Agreement states that signatories should aim to reach their peak of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible so that they can begin rapidly reducing their emissions. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were submitted by each Party to outline exact steps for how a Party will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience to adapt to challenges already present from climate change. Every five years Parties are expected to create more progressive NDCs that should position the countries closer to reaching emissions goals. The first NDCs were due to be submitted by 2020 but have been postponed along with COP26 due to the global pandemic.

To coincide with the NDCs, Parties are encouraged, but not required, to develop long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. These long-term plans allow for a nation to envision what exactly it wishes to achieve, such as carbon neutrality, and provide a better guide for how to split up each five-year-long NDC.

An important aspect of the Paris Agreement is collaboration between countries. It recognizes the fact that developing countries have contributed the least to climate change as highly industrialized countries, although they face the most imminent and extreme impacts of global warming. As a result of the disproportionate impact of climate change on less developed countries, the Paris Agreement allows for them to develop plans that reflect their circumstances in order to promote equity.

Developing countries may not have the means to commit to plans as ambitious as other Parties, which may cause them to take longer to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement recognizes that countries in the Global North have an obligation to provide assistance to developing Parties, which is written into the agreement as an expectation of these nations. In addition to financial aid, developed Parties are expected to aid Global South Parties with technological development to improve resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as aiding them in building the capacity to deal with climate-related issues.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty — those who sign onto it have an obligation to uphold its commitments. Parties must formulate NDCs to hold themselves accountable and mitigate their own contribution to climate change. If a Party fails to do so, the UNFCCC cannot take direct legal action against them since there is no international judicial system. Nonetheless, there would be negative consequences for those who fail to uphold their NDCs. By not fulfilling their obligations, the Party in question risks turbulent relations with other UNFCCC Parties, economic backlash and citizen dissent within their own country.

Signatories created an enhanced transparency framework when the Paris Agreement was created. Beginning in 2024, parties will begin reporting their progress in regards to greenhouse gas emission reduction and adaptation to imminent challenges posed by climate change. Countries should also report aid they gave or received. Every five years, there will be a global stocktake that assesses global progress towards maintaining a low global temperature and will be able to provide countries with recommendations as to how they can improve, allowing for these suggestions to be included in the next NDC.

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