What is COP26 and how will it affect solicitors?

At the start of November, the United Kingdom will be hosting COP26 in Glasgow. Over 200 nations will be attending, together with businesses from across the globe. But what is a COP? Why is this one so important, and what does it mean for solicitors?

What is COP26 and why is it important?

COP stands for Conference of the Parties.

It’s an annual opportunity for negotiators and world leaders to come together to review their progress on climate change, and decide on next steps.

Find out more about COP26

COPs have been occurring since 1995, and they’ve become large scale international events in the past years – not only for governments and policymakers but for businesses as key steering and future-scanning events.

COP26 has been hailed as the most important COP under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since COP21, which produced the Paris Agreement.

The reason for this is that it’s the first time since the Paris Agreement that nations will strengthen their 2030 emission reduction targets, financial commitments, and climate change adaptation strategies under the Paris Agreement’s ‘ratchet mechanism’.

This will be critical in finding out if the temperature targets of the Paris Agreement of well below 2°C (ideally 1.5°C) are met, allowing us to avoid the most catastrophic effects from climate change.

However, as of May 2021, the current global policies in place around the world are projected to result in about 2.4°C warming above pre-industrial levels.

If 2°C warming is exceeded, it will:

  • increase extreme weather events
  • make large portions of the globe uninhabitable
  • result in unprecedented global migration
  • threaten global food security

In August 2021, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its landmark eight-year Sixth Assessment Report that secretary general Antonio Guterres described as a "code red for humanity".

COP26 has four main goals

  1. Securing net zero by 2050 in a final effort to keep global temperature increase below the critical 1.5°C threshold
  2. Making progress on climate change adaptation measures to protect and restore communities, ecosystems and economies from the devastating effects of climate change, particularly in the developing world
  3. Mobilising public and private finance to address climate change, with $100 billion in climate finance per year from developed countries, and unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero
  4. Strengthening international collaboration to accelerate progress on climate goals, particularly by finalising the Paris Rulebook, which includes issues on carbon pricing and market-mechanisms

How does COP26 affect solicitors?

Climate change is no longer just a problem for governments to deal with.

What's being discussed at COP26 will impact all solicitors, not just those that deal with environmental and climate change issues.

Climate change will impact how we do business

Companies are exposed to climate change risks and, similarly, climate change risks can be aggravated by business practices.

Goal three of COP26 will mean greater scrutiny of business decisions from an environmental, social and governance (ESG) perspective.

It’ll increase the drive for B Corporation status, as greater transparency and disclosure on sustainability credentials drive business.

Nearly a third of the UK’s largest businesses have now pledged to eliminate their net contribution to carbon emissions by 2050. This means that 68 percent of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP) is covered by net zero commitments.

Find out more about net zero and why it’s important for solicitors

Climate change will impact the regulatory and legal landscape

The decisions at COP26 will gradually be translated to action, policies and laws at the national and international level.

As such, it’s critical that solicitors anticipate and are aware of the latest developments as regulations begin to catch up with new market norms.

The outcomes at COP26 will likely affect the: