What is COP26 and why does it matter for South Africa?

What is COP26?

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference. It will take place from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. 

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and refers to the countries in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – a treaty that was agreed to in 1994 to combat climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement are treaties that were agreed to at previous COPs. The Paris Agreement was adopted at COP21 in 2015, with the goal of keeping the rise in mean global temperatures to well below 2°C, preferably limiting the increase to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

According to the Paris Agreement, emissions should be reduced as soon as possible and the world must reach ‘net zero’ emissions by 2050. To do so, any remaining greenhouse gases emissions must be removed from the atmosphere.


Why does COP26 matter to South Africa?

At COP26, countries included in the Paris Agreement will provide updates on their efforts to slow down climate change, including initiatives to switch from coal-based power to renewables.


According to the agreement, countries must publish ‘nationally determined contributions’, or NDCs, to indicate their plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. South Africa is the 12th biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world because it generates most of its electricity by burning coal. In order to reach net zero emissions, major changes are needed in the way the country’s economy operates. Most importantly, most of our electricity should come from renewable sources such as solar, wind energy and alternatives to fossil fuels.


COP26 is an opportunity for South Africa to secure the funds needed to make this transition. Wealthy economies have committed to contributing $100 billion a year to developing countries for this transition. South Africa needs to show its ambitions to transition to a net zero economy by 2050 in order to gain access to this finance. 

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  • https://mg.co.za/environment/2021-09-17-what-is-cop-and-why-is-cop26-so-important/
  • https://www.wri.org/insights/interactive-chart-shows-changes-worlds-top-10-emitters
  • https://www.polity.org.za/article/south-africa-the-12th-biggest-source-of-greenhouse-gases-yes-but-thats-not-the-only-measure-that-matters-2021-04-19
  • https://netzeroclimate.org/what-is-net-zero

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