COP26 and why it matters to you

Have you been hearing references to #COP26 but not sure what it is or why it matters to you or anyone else?

When I was asked to come to Madrid in December 2019 to lead a panel discussion at COP25 with bright thinkers from around the world on how we can use emerging technology to fight climate change? Well, it was genuinely one of the highlights of my life.

Why did it matter so much to me? And why does the COP26 climate change conference happening in Glasgow this year matter to you? Here’s a brief guide.

Leading a panel at COP25 was a highlight of my life

What is it?

First of all, let’s define our terms: COP stands for Conference of the Parties. That doesn’t help much, does it? OK, I’ll do better. It’s a summit of leaders from around the world focused on climate change. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995 and this year Glasgow will be hosting the 26th COP.

When is it?

From the 31st of October to the 12th of November. Some of that time is programming that’s just for top officials and delegates; some of the days feature broader programming. (Like that panel I led. If you’ve ever been to a really large expo with overwhelming exhibitor floor space, this is not unlike that. Only the exhibitors are countries, and the events taking place in the auditoriums and meeting spaces are filled with people shaping relevant discussions and decisions for governments, big organizations, big companies, and so on.)

This was India’s booth at COP25 in the “Country Hall” which was basically an exhibitor floor filled with governments from nations around the world

Why does it matter?

The primary objective of the COP is to reach agreements between countries about commitments to reducing carbon emissions and other climate-related factors. There’s a big, big difference between what happens to life on this planet if average temperatures increase by 1.5° C or, say, 3°, 4°, or even more. Small though those increases sound, they mean considerable more devastation through extreme weather events, more loss of life, and more forced migration from areas that will no longer be able to support human — or much other — life.

As a result of the need for decisions around these issues, there will almost certainly be pushes for new legislation in many countries, so no matter where you are on the planet, you’ll be affected. If you’re concerned, as I am, that most countries aren’t doing enough to contend with this massive climate emergency, then you’ll want to see aggressive and urgent action by participating countries.

What can we do to make a difference?

While we may feel like the events happening in Glasgow have no bearing on our lives in the immediate sense, the circumstances of the climate emergency are growing so urgent that we should challenge ourselves to follow along as best we can. The brighter future requires us to commit our attention and energy to understanding the challenge, making personal changes where possible, and applying pressure on companies and governments to make broader, more impactful changes in policy and practice. Perhaps you can use COP26 as a reminder to send emails or make calls to elected officials, company leaders, and other influential people who can affect wide-reaching change for the better.

As I wrote in A Future So Bright, “It won’t be sufficient to put all our energy into eliminating or cutting emissions based on what we’ve normalized today; we need true progress, and that’s going to take our best, most innovative, most forward-looking efforts.”

(You can read more, by the way, about what’s needed in A Future So Bright.)

Where can I read more about COP26?

Here are some additional overviews and guides to understanding COP26 and climate change overall:

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/10/1104142

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-56901261

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/11/what-is-cop26-and-why-does-it-matter-the-complete-guide

https://racetozero.unfccc.int/heres-why-cop26-concerns-all-of-us/

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/oct/28/cop26-what-at-stake-climate-summit

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