The journey to COP26: why is the conference so important and what can we expect from it?

4 min read

As the UK gears up to host COP26, the ramifications of the event look set to be far-reaching and here at Mace, we’re hopeful that the upcoming conference will not only fast-track environmental action, but also give the built environment a reason to move faster on the issues that matter most.

Addressing climate change and reducing carbon emissions is at the heart of everything we do at Mace and we’re committed to transforming the way our industry builds, refurbishes, operates and repurposes.

While our industry has already taken steps to become more sustainable, what we have collectively achieved isn’t enough. The best way to expedite faster action is through collaboration – and that’s why gatherings like COP26 and Mace’s recent New York Climate Week Event are so important. By working together, we really can be a powerful force for positive change.

In this series, we’ll be taking a look at our predictions for COP26, potential outcomes and consequences as well as some key takeaways - but first, let’s breakdown the basics of the event…

What is COP26?

COP stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’ and this year will see the 26th iteration of the event. There are 197 ‘Parties’ (mostly individual countries), with the EU acting as one big group during negotiations.

It is by far the largest global climate change conference in the world and brings together leaders and their teams to discuss how the world can come together to address climate change. This year, the UK is hosting the conference and shaping the agenda.

Who will be there?

The event takes place in a different city each year – this time Glasgow is the host city. Delegates will arrive in Scotland from 31st October 2021, with the conference continuing until 12th November. It’s estimated that over 30,000 people will attend in person, including 200 world leaders and decision-makers. The UK’s Alok Sharma, former Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary, is COP26 President, meaning he’ll lead on preparations and chair meetings.

Why is COP26 important?

Society finds itself on the brink. The global climate crisis is no longer just a problem pending on the horizon; it’s the defining challenge of our time and how we respond to that challenge will be what shapes the world of tomorrow. We’ve now reached a pivotal moment in history where small steps and steady gain are no longer enough.

This year’s conference is seen as a critical opportunity to reverse the damage that humanity has inflicted upon the environment, with a recent report by the IPCC warning that the world’s pledge to keep global heating within 1.5C is fast becoming an impossibility. COP26 provides a platform for decision makers to get together and bring about significant change - so there’s a lot at stake.

What’s on the agenda?

Over the course of two weeks, world leaders, experts and campaigners will endeavour to agree on a coordinated approach to tackling climate change. The Paris Agreement has been at the heart of discussions over the last few years. This was agreed by leaders in 2015 when 195 countries attended COP21; the agreement states that nations must:

  • Reduce the amount of harmful greenhouse gasses produced and increase renewable energy generation
  • Keep global temperature increases to below 2C (3.6F) and try to limit it to 1.5C
  • Spend $100 billion dollars a year in climate finance to help poorer countries by 2020, with a commitment to further finance in the future.
  • Review progress made on the agreement every five years

COP26 has extra significance as it will be the first time since Paris that countries are required to extend and set out more ambitious goals.

After launching with a world leaders’ summit, each day will centre around a theme – from green transport to protecting nature. While all of the days will hold value, those focusing on ‘Nature and land use’, ‘Cities, regions and the built environment’ as well as ‘Transport’ are ones that we hope will provide further opportunity for the sector. What is discussed and agreed here will likely have an enormous impact on the property and infrastructure industry and will no doubt inform how we tackle sustainability going forward.

What major policy decisions might we see at COP26?

The US recently committed to doubling its contribution to international climate finance and it’s highly likely that we will see other countries do the same, as we all strive towards the goal of securing $100 billion dollars to tackle global warming. Following that, a clear approach will surely emerge for how investment should be made in emerging economies to help their commitment to carbon reduction. There may also be further calls for a global financial commitment to creating a hydrogen economy. And of course, high on the agenda will be the implementation of an institutional infrastructure, that can support rapid knowledge transfer and innovation – so that post-COP, action can continue with a pace that befits the urgency of this crisis.

In the next article in the journey to COP26 series, we’ll delve deeper into these potential outcomes for the built environment, as well as some of our predictions for what COP26 could mean for our industry.…