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S4’s COP26 explainer for schools

What is COP26?

COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. The ‘Parties’ are governments from all over the world. This is the 26th time the ‘Parties’ have met to discuss climate change and so this is ‘COP26’.  COP26 takes place in Glasgow in November 2021. It should have taken place in 2020 but was delayed due to the pandemic.

The Parties are the group of nations who signed the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (The UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is a treaty which agreed to stop dangerous climate change, and it was signed by 197 ‘Parties’; 196 countries and the European Union.

The UNFCCC aimed to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous human-caused climate change. Signing it means a country has committed to defining national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a level that protects our climate.

In 1994 most of the world’s governments agreed to meet every year to work together to limit climate change; these meetings are the ‘COPs’.

COP26 Programme

COP26 will open on October 31st and be followed by a World Leaders Summit on November 1st and 2nd. The summit will then discuss the topics below. The full programme can be found here. 

Wednesday November 3rd, Finance.

The Finance day will discuss how governments will mobilise public and private finance for climate mitigation and adaptation. This is an important discussion as it addresses how the nations that caused climate change, in the developed world, will help the nations who will be most severely impacted by it, in the developing world.

Thursday November 4th. Energy.

Thursday is Energy day when the summit will discuss how to speed up the global transition to clean energy.

Friday November 5th. Youth and Public Empowerment.

Friday is Youth Climate Action day when the summit will discuss how to elevate the voice of young people and the critical role of public empowerment and education in climate action.

Saturday November 6th. Nature.

Saturday is Nature day when the summit will address how to ensure nature and sustainable land use are part of global action on climate change and a clean, green future.

The COP has a rest day on November 7th ahead of a busy second week of negotiations.

Monday November 8th is a day of discussions around Climate Adaptation, Loss and Damage.

This day looks at how practical solutions needed to adapt to climate impacts, loss and damage can be delivered.

Tuesday November 9th. The Gender and Science and Innovation day.

In Gender discussions, the summit will examine how to progress gender equality and the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in climate action. The science and innovation sessions will focus on demonstrating how science and innovation can deliver climate solutions.

Wednesday November 10th. Transport.

The summit will discuss the global transition to zero emission transport.

Thursday November 11th. Cities, Regions and the Built Environment day.

The summit will explore how to advance climate action in the places where people live.

The summit negotiations close on Friday November 12th.

Ideas for class exercises to go with each day of COP26

You could pick one of the days above to explore a particular topic with learners.

Some possible class investigation topics are below.

Finance Day.

Explore the concept of ‘climate justice’ and the mechanisms in place to finance climate adaptation in the developing world. There is a good introduction video with a case study from The Philippines here that could form the basis for a class discussion.

Energy Day.

Renewable energy is a great topic for a class investigation. Wales has a particular specialism in marine renewables with large scale schemes being explored in several locations. The Schools resources of Marine Energy Wales are a good place to start.

Youth Day.

Explore climate action as a concept and carry out a class exercise to imagine what a better climate and environment future might look like.A Message from The Future’ is a video about what a green future might look like, by American politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex and climate writer Naomi Klein. It is a great video to start a class discussion imagining what a sustainable future might look like and what climate action is needed to get us there.

Nature Day.

Introduce the concept of ‘nature-based solutions’ using this guide from WWF and carry out an exercise to identify nature-based solutions happening in Wales. Project Seagrass is a great case study to use.

Adaptation Day.

Climate adaptation is all about practical solutions. Older learners (Key Stages 4 and 5) could explore the UK’s adaptation plans through the Climate Change Committee’s recent progress report. The report could be used to discuss what aspects of climate adaptation are going well in the UK, and which are not progressing fast enough. Which of the 6 key adaptation risk areas for the UK are likely to be most serious for Wales?

Science and Innovation Day.

The topic of science and innovation to solve climate change is enormous and it can be hard to know where to start. A good way to start a discussion about why technology and science innovation is important to solving climate change is to explore the Earthshot Prize project and to explore some of the 2021 project finalists. What are the projects attempting to do and how will them combat climate change?

Gender Day.

Explore why climate change is a gender issue by asking the class to think about why climate change might particularly affect women and girls in the developing world? There are good introductions to the topic of climate change and gender here  and here.

Transport and Cities Days.

Have a discussion about travel issues in the class; how do students travel to school and how would they like to travel to school? Research the Welsh Active Travel Act and what it means for our cities and towns. Students could investigate an Active Travel scheme in their area and how it has impacted transport.

COP26 Resource Packs

The COP26 team have put together a school’s pack which you can download here.

Other useful teacher resource packs are available from:

What happens at a COP?

You might think a meeting about climate change has lots of scientists at it! In fact, most people who attend the COP meetings are not scientists at all, they are government negotiators, politicians, and the press. The science research is done before a COP; the meeting is for those who will write the science into law to discuss it. For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assesses climate science and publishes their findings in reports. The latest report found that climate change is now widespread across the globe, rapid and intensifying and that stabilising our climate requires strong, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and reaching net zero CO2 emissions soon. You can read the latest IPCC climate change report here. The aim of the COP is to work out how to implement the changes recommended on the basis of the science.

The main aim of COP26 is to speed up action by countries to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The COP26 tagline is “Uniting The World To Tackle Climate Change”.

Class Exercises

Exercise 1:

The COP26 tagline is “Uniting The World To Tackle Climate Change”. If you were organising a climate change event what would its moto be and what would you aim to achieve?

At the meeting the countries all present and discuss their national greenhouse gas emissions targets (these are called Nationally Determined Contributions) and try to agree targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a government document called ‘COP26 Explained’ available here that could form the background of a lesson for Key Stage 4 and 5 learners.

Exercise 2:

How does this government document on the COP  contrast and compare to a similar document from an environmental group or a document about the COP from a wildlife charity or one from a consumer magazine.

Do the different agencies have different focuses and why might that be?

What will COP26 try to achieve?

One of the most important COPs was the 21st, held in Paris in 2015. At COP21 The Parties signed the Paris Agreement which was a legally binding agreement for the Parties to work together to limit global warming to well below 2°C and preferably to 1.5°C. compared to pre-industrial levels. 2021 was the date set for countries to agree the emissions targets needed to achieve this.

Unfortunately, the latest Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change report concluded that we are missing the 1.5°C to 2°C target because counties have not reduced their emissions by enough, yet. The global average temperature of Earth is likely to rise by another 1.5°C over the next two decades. This would give a total temperature rise (total global warming) since preindustrial times of about 2.9°C degrees by 2100, way above the Paris agreement targets. COP26 aims to fix this and bring the likely total warming back down to meet the Paris Agreement target. One message being shared is that COP26 wants to ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’ meaning the conference aims to develop the ambitious emissions reductions promises needed to meet the most ambitious of the Paris agreement targets.

Information on the four COP26 Goals is below and here.

  1. To secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5°C degrees within reach. The Parties will present emissions reductions targets that will help to bring projected warming back under 2°C Celsius by the end of the century. It is important to remember these targets are for the global average temperature. The temperature change in specific places could be higher, or lower, than this average. Here in Wales, we are likely to experience around 1.8°C of warming in total by 2050, if global emissions stay similar to now. The hope is that, at COP26, nations announce more ambitious emissions reductions targets than those presented previously. This has been termed the ‘ratcheting up’ process – whereby emissions reductions targets become more and more ambitious over time. This is a huge ask though, particularly as nations are recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic. The window to ‘Keep 1.5 Alive’ is very narrow. In the next decade greenhouse gas emissions need to drop by as much as they rose in the last half century and, critically, after net-zero is reached in 2050 emissions then need to go negative which means removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Improved climate commitments are expected to include plans for phasing out coal, ending deforestation, switching to electric vehicles, and investing more in renewable energy.

  2. To adapt to protect communities and natural habitats. COP26 also aims to reach an agreement on protecting ecosystems and helping countries impacted by climate change to build the infrastructure needed to protect people and livelihoods. This is where the second week, on nature, adaptation and science and innovation come into play. The aim will be to develop systems to protect and restore habitat and ecosystems and resilient infrastructure that protects people and livelihoods.

  3. To mobilise finance. At the heart of the climate emergency is the fact that the nations who caused human-induced climate change are not the ones who will be most severely impacted by it. Climate and environmental justice are the processes by which we need to redress this inequality of impact. Part of the Paris Climate Agreement included the mobilisation of huge sums of money to support developing counties to adapt and build climate resilient infrastructure, protect nature, and develop sustainably. It is important that developing nations are supported to ‘leapfrog’ over the need for fossil-fuels and can grow sustainably using renewable energy. Unfortunately, Paris failed to agree on how this financing would work. This is likely to be one of the greatest challenges for COP26, especially coming out of a global pandemic that has had significant financial impacts across the world.  COP26 states two clear goals on finance; one on public climate finance and one on private. First, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn of public climate financing per year and second, private international financial institutions must play their part and work towards unleashing the trillions in finance required to secure global net zero greenhouse gas emissions. This is likely to be one of the hardest goals for the COP. In 2019 climate financing for vulnerable nations was just under $80 Billion, well short of the public funding target, this is partly because of a backlog of US contributions which were halted under the Trump presidency.

  4. Working together to deliver. This goal is mostly about ‘finalising the Paris Agreement rule book’. Many of the best parts of the Paris Agreement were ideas that were not fixed into law and left a lot of scope for countries to avoid delivering on their climate commitments. This goal seeks to accelerate climate action through collaboration, business, and wider society. It very much aligns with the ethos of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change reports, which ask for changes at pace and scale across every sector of society.

Thank you for taking the time to visit S4’s COP26 page and don’t forget you can get in touch if you have any questions!