COP26: What's at Stake?

What are the UN climate talks?

The 26th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as COP26, will take place in Glasgow on 1-12 November 2021, hosted by the UK Government. Much delayed, COP26 constitutes the latest in a series of largely unsuccessful attempts by governments to implement and achieve international targets to limit climate emissions and mitigate climate breakdown.

For Glasgow and Scotland COP26 is a big deal: with the whole world coming to town, it will be by far the biggest moment for climate activists our city and country has ever seen.

It also matters for the climate: climate catastrophes are happening with increasing frequency and severity such as the fires in the Amazon and the Arctic. These point to the urgency of our global response.

In 2015, the UN process led to a key agreement in Paris to limit emissions to below 1.5°C through largely voluntary submissions and non-binding targets. In 2021, COP26 is due to negotiate new measures to implement the Paris Agreement.

Photo credit: UN

What’s on the agenda for the 2021 talks?

Few countries have met their targets so far and, unjustly, many of the worst laggards are those that have the greatest historic emissions. The UN talks are often the centre of climate injustice, but it could also be a place for solutions.

At COP26 global governments should agree new emissions targets, negotiate new rules on emissions trading, and agree finance for the damage caused by climate change. They could also delay serious action and agree new let-offs for polluting industries. 

What transpires at COP26 and its aftermath will have far reaching consequences. Here are some of the most critical issues:

1. The ‘Paris Agreement’, signed in 2015, is a legally binding global climate accord which seeks to limit global warming to well below 2°C and pursues efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. Until now, countries have been negotiating the technical details of the Paris Agreement, but in 2021 nations are supposed to mark its official commencement by increasing their pledges.

2. New finance for “loss and damage” was due to be agreed at COP25 in Madrid, but no progress was made. Loss and damage is key for climate justice: it refers to the role that the richest countries – the ones that are guilty of causing the most emissions – should be taking in paying reparations to the poorest countries (known as ‘the Global South’) who have caused the least emissions but who suffer the most from the global impacts of climate change. The Santiago Network on loss and damage claims that $100bn should be paid to the Global South as part of COP agreements. 

3. Attempts were made at COP25 in Madrid to agree new rules on carbon markets but Global South nations resisted them, and no progress was made. Carbon trading, sometimes called emissions trading, is a market-based tool to limit climate pollution that allows polluters who have overshot on emissions to “trade” with people who have undershot their emissions quota. The problem with these schemes are numerous, but the main problem is that we have run out of time for them: at our current rate of emissions, it is estimated that we will run out of the remaining carbon budget for 1.5C by 2025. That means that every country needs to urgently cut its emissions to zero: there is no atmospheric space left to buy and sell. It is, as you can imagine, a solution favoured by polluting nations and corporations. 

What will COP26 look like?

At the 2021 COP in Glasgow there will be two weeks of formal negotiations between the government delegates held at the Scottish Exhibition Campus.

There will be fringe meetings inside the event organised by delegations from governmental departments and non-governmental organisations, including environmental organisations. Across the Clyde the UK Government will be taking over the Glasgow Science Centre.

Thousands of representatives of civil society organisations from across the world will stage stunts, protests and possibly direct action to draw attention to what is, or what should be happening inside the COP. The unofficial fringe of the COP, mostly taking place outside formal UN spaces, has often functioned as the global annual meeting of the climate movement.

The key network we look to organise with will be the COP26 Coalition, who are organising a march and a People’s Summit – where civil society comes together to propose radical solutions, represent the underserved, challenge corporate influence, and pressure governments to do better. 

Fossil fuel companies and other corporate lobbyists will also be well represented inside and outside the COP.


How are polluters infiltrating COP26?

The giant fossil fuel companies and other big polluters have free reign to lobby openly and behind closed doors in the side events and corridors of the COP. 

These companies use their power to influence the outcomes of climate talks with the ulterior motive of watering down policy decisions in order to favour their own pursuit of profits. 

There is a clear conflict of interest in them being allowed to be involved since these industries are the main drivers of climate breakdown.

How could the UN talks be better?

Glasgow Calls Out Polluters is demanding that everyone from people and businesses in Glasgow to the UK and Scottish Governments do what they can to stop climate polluters from wrecking the UN climate talks.

We are asking venues in the city to declare themselves polluter-free spaces and not accept bookings from fossil fuel companies and other major polluters around COP26. Glasgow City Council as the owner of the Scottish Exhibition Campus, has a major role to play.

We want the Scottish Government to commit to blocking out polluters from its own spaces and to call on other actors, including the UK Government, to do the same.

Regarding the running of COP26 itself the UK Government have the most power. We are demanding that they:

1. Don’t let polluters in

Don’t give UK passes to polluters or their industry representatives, invite them to speak at events, or share the stage with polluters. Encourage others to do likewise.

2. Don’t take polluters’ money

Don’t take sponsorship money from polluters, inside or out of the formal talks. Challenge other countries and participants to do the same.

3. Don’t promote polluters’ lies

Reject the false solutions put forward by climate polluters such as Carbon Capture and Storage, bio-energy carbon capture and storage (BECCS), fossil-powered hydrogen, solar radiation management, natural gas as a “bridge fuel”, or the use of wood-fired power plants.

4. Lock polluters out

Lead moves in the UN to permanently shut climate polluters out of UN processes by adopting a conflict of interest policy that blocks access to accreditations, expert and advisory bodies and UNFCCC posts, and bans sponsorship deals. The World Health Organisation has moved to block tobacco companies; the same principle applies.

5. Deliver climate justice

As co-hosts of COP26, silence the voices of polluters and instead prioritise those worst affected. Pushing for fair-shares commitments to cut climate pollution, support adequate funding for loss and damage, and show global leadership with a bold and just transition away from fossil fuels for the UK.

Are you from a community group, activist network, trade union or other not-for-profit group? Organisations can support our demands by signing our open letter to the UK Government. To sign, just email

Further reading

Read more about COPs: 

Carbon trading

Polluters at COP25