Seven things to know about COP 26: A quick guide for education unionists

published 25 October 2021 updated 20 June 2024
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After a one-year delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, world leaders, negotiators, civil society representatives and key stakeholders will be convening for the UN climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12. The two-week conference aims to mobilise urgently needed climate action in order to meet the Paris Agreement’s targets.

This means raising emissions reductions pledges, organising more efficient adaptation mechanisms to the impacts of climate change, and mobilising financial support for developing nations to facilitate their transition to low-carbon economies. This year’s COP is shaping up to be the most crucial since the passage of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Here are a few things you need to know about the summit:

1. The Conference of Parties is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),

The original environmental treaty forged in 1992 was primarily tasked to tackle ‘dangerous human interference with the climate system.’ The COP is the venue where Parties review and negotiate the implementation of the Convention. COP 25, for instance, left many important issues undecided, such as the highly contentious debates on carbon markets. Many are anticipating the verdict on these issues as the dismal outcomes of the previous COP cast doubt on the seriousness of world leaders to act on climate.

2. Many are hoping that COP 26 will spark greater ambition that would keep the higher goal of the Paris Agreement alive: limiting global temperature rise to 1.5° C.

Widely regarded as the most important multilateral treaty addressing climate change today, the Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100. However, due to the magnified impacts of climate change, the aim for 1.5C was set as the more ambitious goal of the agreement. A recent report by UN’s climate scientists has warned that the rise in global temperature will likely breach the 1.5C by 2030 if massive emissions cuts are not made soon. It remains to be seen if COP 26 will deliver on its promise of catalysing bolder climate action, particularly on the temperature target of 1.5° C.

3. The world will be keeping an eye on the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The NDCs—an outline of a country’s voluntary climate action plans—have been hailed as one of the most prominent achievements of the Paris Agreement. It eschewed the ‘top-down’ approaches of past policy regimes and allowed countries the autonomy to decide the pace of their decarbonisation processes. Theoretically, the voluntary nature of the NDCS was supposed to inspire confidence in nations to raise ambition through mutual cooperation and diplomacy. However, current climate pledges have failed to deliver on the goals of the Paris Agreement. In fact, if the world continues with current climate commitments, the world will be 2.4°C warmer by the end of the century. Raising ambition within the NDCs, particularly of high emitting countries, will be key in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.

4. Civil society organisations, negotiators from small island states and least developed countries, as well as unions, will be pushing for climate justice in the talks.

The UK presidency, through Boris Johnson, has outlined four key priority areas: coal, cash, cars, and trees. Johnson’s pronouncement summarised his presidency’s climate commitments, which mainly targets the end of coal, mobilise $100 billion a year for the developing world, hasten the transition to electric cars, and end deforestation. However, countries who are already experiencing the destructive consequences of runaway climate change are calling for a Solidarity Package that would address a variety of issues not captured in the UK government’s approach. Hence, we can expect that civil society representatives, unions, and a few negotiators from climate vulnerable countries will be pushing to reference climate justice in the negotiations.

5. Climate Education needs to be amplified at COP 26.

While the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) has been actively conducting dialogues with Parties and key stakeholders on how to operationalise and strengthen its program, there is still so much that needs to be done. Primarily, raising awareness on the need for quality climate education as a veritable climate action strategy is imperative. Given that most nations are failing in their climate education pledges, it is high time that governments stepped up their ambition as the Paris Agreement recognises the importance of education in confronting the climate crisis.

6. Unions will demand for a ‘New Social Contract’ at COP.

With a history of active engagement at the COPs, trade unions via the International Trade Union Confederation, will demand to centre social justice in the transition to low-carbon economies. In particular, the ITUC has outlined its five demands for a New Social Contract. These are: 1) The creation of climate-friendly jobs 2) Rights for all workers 3) Universal Social Protection 4) Equality 5) Inclusion and democratic participation.

Thus, climate education will be a vital component in this transition. As the world begins to decarbonise, the role of education in preparing the workforce for the green economy as well as shifting mindsets to more sustainable ways of living has never been more imperative.

7. We need the voices of educators at COP!

As such, we are calling on every educator to join EI at COP by participating online and, if possible, in person, by attending the Global Day of Action on November 6. Share and sign the Manifesto on Quality Climate Education for All. Write letters to your education and environment ministers, urging them to recognise the need for quality climate education for all.

We also encourage you and your union to engage in international and domestic climate policymaking and demand that climate education be part of your country’s NDCs.

We have created a toolkit on climate education advocacy as an introduction into this endeavour.