What's COP and why does it matter?

Settle in for your intro to the climate talks in Glasgow, why they're important and how to engage your community ahead of the talks in November.

05 Jan 2022

What are the UN climate talks in Glasgow?

COP, the UN climate summit and the climate talks are all names used to describe the same thing: an annual conference of nations hosted by the UN. The 2021 conference in Glasgow, which was delayed due to the pandemic, marked the 26th round of climate talks since they began, hence the name “COP26”. It's a chance for world leaders to negotiate the rules, guidelines and co-operation needed to tackle climate change and its impacts. The talks are made up of the main negotiating space, separate working groups, technical bodies and committees.

This year, world leaders will be discussing progress against commitments made at the 2015 Paris climate talks. Important things on the table included:

  • Closing the emissions gap. The talks include the submission of new national pledges on emissions reduction.
  • Carbon markets negotiations. This is the one part of the Paris Agreement that's yet to be finalised. Worryingly, discussions may open the door to global carbon markets that would allow polluters to continue emitting greenhouse gases, for a price, either through trading or offsetting.
  • Climate finance. Wealthy countries are failing to meet the target agreed to provide finance to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis and transition to clean energy quickly.
  • Loss and Damage. Loss and Damage is the phrase used for how we deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate breakdown, those that are already beyond our control.

What are the climate talks good for?

The negotiations take centre stage at the talks. After all, they mark the most significant opportunity to secure global agreements and reign in the world's biggest polluters. We had a list of demands for the negotiations themselves, and during the talks we were tracking and reporting on what happened. Find out more about how negotiations work and their impact by watching the fantastic Boiling Point YouTube series from the COP26 Coalition.

But beyond the negotiations, there are also real opportunities to increase external pressure on governments. The talks usually coincide with significant civil society engagement, with demonstrations in the host city and mobilisations shining a light on key issues that need action. It’s been this outside pressure that has held governments to account and pushed for stronger outcomes.

Mobilisation at Paris climate talks in 2015
Mobilisation at Paris climate talks in 2015 Mitja Kobal

There are significant benefits to getting involved during the talks:

  • Strengthen our movement and build the network. Coming together for mobilisations and events around COP gives us the chance to build skills, share learning and engage more people in the climate justice movement.  
  • Create local, national and international connections. COPs are traditionally a space where movements from around the world meet and share their challenges. It’s a great chance to connect with people in our communities, across the country and internationally. 
  • Get a better understanding of climate justice and international climate issues. COP is a great chance to change the way we think about climate action and ensure social justice is central to the approach, so that solutions benefit the hardest hit first.  For more, see our guide to climate justice.
  • Increased media attention and scrutiny of government. With heightened political, media and public attention on climate, we have a unique opportunity to secure wins for our climate campaigns and push the UK government to do more. For more on this see the section on this page marked "What are we calling for?"

Crucially, this wasn't just about 2 weeks in November, but about building power and securing wins before, during and after COP26. Ensuring we enter 2022 a stronger, more connected and more inspired movement.  

This is where the real change happens.

What did we call for?

We called for the UK government to end its support for fossil fuels at home and abroad. It's currently involved in at least 4 cases that may worsen climate breakdown and completely undermine its claim of being a climate leader [get up to speed on the cases.]

Putting an immediate stop to all support for coal, oil and gas is crucial to limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5°C.

In order to end its support for fossil fuels, we're calling on the UK government to: 

  • Stop financing fossil fuels overseas. The UK’s influence reaches well beyond our borders, including through the financing of fossil fuel projects overseas. Despite committing to ending almost all fossil fuel financing internationally, the UK government refuses to withdraw its $1 billion of support for a gas mega project in Mozambique. We’ve taken the government to court over its support and the case will be heard this winter. We must keep up the pressure and continue to take action in solidarity with Friends of the Earth Mozambique.  
  • End oil and gas extraction in the North Sea and across the UK in a way that's fair to the workers in those industries. We’ve joined a legal case challenging the Oil and Gas Authority over their continued support for oil and gas companies and are calling on the government to refuse approval for the Cambo oil field. But we must also avoid the devastating social and economic consequences caused by the closure of other industries. That’s why we’re working alongside Friends of the Earth Scotland to ensure workers are re-skilled and provided with job opportunities once these industries shut down.
  • Stop all extraction of coal. This means stopping the proposed mine near Whitehaven, Cumbria. We’re working closely with local groups and using planning, legal and political interventions to apply pressure. The public inquiry into the Whitehaven mine starts on the 7 September and goes on until the start of October. A decision will be made in spring 2022. We have a petition calling on the government to refuse the mine – sign and share it today. If the UK’s domestic action is to meet its rhetoric around COP, it must stop the mine at Whitehaven.
The coastal town of Whitehaven in Cumbria
The coastal town of Whitehaven in Cumbria acceleratorharms via iStock/ Getty Images Plus

Ending support for fossil fuels at home and abroad in a way that ensures communities and workers aren't left behind is central to a justice approach to fighting climate breakdown. Climate justice was at the heart of our work on COP, and we strongly encourage you to read our short guide to how justice relates to the climate movement: