United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP)

This page covers the below sections: 

See the Contents for all available Sustainability Hub pages. 

What is COP26? 

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and it is the decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 

A landmark Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties at COP21 in Paris in December 2015(1) to limit global warming to below 2°C, whilst also pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.   

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change, within the UNFCCC.  It calls for the delivery of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), long-term decarbonisation plans to 2050, and financial support worth $100bn per year to countries considered most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.   

Procedures and mechanisms were agreed in Katowice Poland in December 2018, to make the Paris Agreement operational.(1)  The Agreement also included a clause ‘requesting’ nations to submit enhancements or upgrades in the form of NDCs to accelerate carbon-cutting for the decade to 2030.    

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in order to limit warming to 1.5°C it will be necessary to lower carbon dioxide emissions by about 45% by 2030 (compared withto 2010 levels). Even limiting global warming to 2°C will require transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy by the middle of this century.(1) 

The reduction of carbon dioxide emissions has become a key measurable for governments and companies to demonstrate their commitment to the reduction of global warming.  On 1 May 2019, the UK Government declared a Climate Emergency and the following month amended the Climate Change Act to establish a revised target to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050.(2) 

During what was considered the most important climate summit since COP21, the UK and Italy co-hosted COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021.  COP26 was the first COP to take place since the Paris Agreement’s measures took effect, and it was the first opportunity that nations had had since then to come together to review their commitments and strengthen ambition.   

COP26 opened with a World Leaders Summit, where leaders stated their intentions for the subsequent negotiations.  A series of themed days focussed on key issues took place, to highlight the activity of governments, businesses, and other stakeholders, and promote further ambition on these issues going forward.  

For more information, please view the COP26 Explained report. 

COP26 Goals 

Each COP sets out clear goals for the event; the goals for COP26 were:(3)

Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5°C within reach: 

  • Accelerating the phase-out of coal 
  • Curtailing deforestation 
  • Speeding up the switch to electric vehicles 
  • Encouraging investment in renewables 

Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats: 

  • Protect and restore ecosystems 
  • Build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives 

Mobilise finance: 

  •  At least $100billion in climate finance per year 

Work together to deliver: 

  • Finalise the Paris Rulebook  
  • Accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses, and civil society. 

COP26 Outcomes 

The negotiations spanned across 13 days, with two of the most significant outcomes being the signing of the Glasgow Climate Pact and agreeing the Paris Rulebook.(4) 

The Glasgow Climate Pact is an agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions, build climate resilience, and deliver the finance required to successfully achieve this.  

The Paris Rulebook prescribes the procedures and mechanisms to make the Paris Agreement operational; although addressed at COP24 in Poland, there were some issues that remained contested.  Importantly, these remaining issues were resolved at COP26 where the Paris Rulebook was finalised.  

Other achievements include:(4) 

  • 153 countries have submitted new or revised NDCs 
  • 65 countries have committed to phase out coal (20 more than previously) 
  • 48 countries are members of the Powering Past Coal Alliance (28 more than previously) 
  • Major coal financing countries have committed to ending international coal finance by 2021 
  • Over $20billion of finance has been pledged to help developing countries transition away from coal 
  • 137 countries have pledged to end deforestation by 2030 (covering 91% of forests) 
  • 28 countries have made plans to shift to sustainable agriculture 
  • 12 countries have pledged $12billion to The Global Forest Finance Pledge  
  • 35 countries, six6 major carmakers, 43 cities, 28 fleet owners, and 15 financial institutions have committed to transitioning to electric vehicles 
  • 121 companies have signed up to the EV100 pledge (committing to have zero-emission vehicle fleets by 2030) 

For more information on the outcomes of COP26, please visit COP26 The Glasgow Climate Pact report.  

Race to Zero 

The COP26 Presidency also called on all businesses to join a global campaign ‘Race to Zero’, the largest global alliance on net zero, to coordinate support for a zero-carbon recovery.   

Whilst individual businesses cannot sign up for the campaign directly, they are invited to join an initiative which is an official partner to Race to Zero.  The objective is to build momentum around the shift to a decarboniszed economy, with all members committed to the same overarching goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.  

Small UK businesses can sign up to the Race to Zero by visiting the Business Climate Hub; an official UK Government site offering practical steps on cutting emissions and inspiring success stories from other businesses.  Other small businesses from outside of the UK can also make commitments by visiting the SME Climate Hub 

Larger UK and non-UK businesses can join the Race to Zero campaign by visiting the UNFCCC website. 

Information is also available in the Climate Leadership Now report published by the We Mean Business Coalition, an official UN supported programme backed by the UK Presidency of COP26. 

To find out more about Net Zero, please visit the Sustainability Hub page. 


Although COP26 was successful in many ways, the NDCs submitted fell short of what was required to get on track to limiting global warming to less than 2°C, whilst also aiming to limit it to 1.5°C.  As a result, it was agreed that NDCs would be revisited at COP27 in 2022. 

COP27 will be hosted in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6-18 November 2022.  


  1. UNFCCC – The Paris Agreement   
  2. Office for National Statistics – Net Zero  
  3. COP26 Goals  
  4. COP26 The Glasgow Climate Pact