Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools
You are here: Home topics Environment The EU and COP26 - background guide

The EU and COP26 - background guide

28 October 2021
by eub2 -- last modified 28 October 2021

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), more commonly known as COP26 will take place from 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland.


1. What is COP26?

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), more commonly known as COP26 will take place from 1-12 November 2021 in Glasgow, Scotland. COP26 will bring together governments, businesses, local authorities and civil society to discuss global climate action. Key aims for the conference include an increased global ambition on greenhouse gas reduction efforts to keep the temperature goals inscribed in the Paris agreement within reach, and increased global efforts on adaptation and climate financing. Negotiations will also take place on the Paris Agreement "Rulebook" to track progress towards each Party's nationally determined contribution, and to ensure the transparency and environmental integrity of international carbon markets.

Parties will also work on the future of climate finance beyond 2025, support for communities suffering from climate-related "loss and damage", forests and agriculture, technology, indigenous peoples and gender.

The Paris Agreement, adopted in December 2015, aims to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature rise to 1.5°C, and to make financial flows consistent with climate objectives. It entered into force on 4 November 2016. 197 UNFCCC Parties have signed the Agreement, and 191 states and the EU have now ratified it.

2. What are the EU's expectations for COP26?

The EU expects world leaders and ministers in Glasgow to demonstrate their continued commitment to accelerating climate action, closing the ambition gap to bring the world in line with the Paris Agreements temperature goals. This is a joint endeavour that can only be solved collectively. Delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, COP26 takes place a year after Parties were expected to update their emissions reduction targets in light of the latest science, under the Paris Agreement. Most, but not all, have done so.

Since the Paris COP, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has described the profound,irreversible, and existential impacts associated with the climate crisis, underlining that only dramatic additional reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can limit global warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst consequences of human made climate change. While the EU and many other Paris Parties have increased the ambition of their targets in time for COP26, the latest UNFCCC Synthesis Report concludes that the global community is still far off the pathways necessary to limit global warming to 2°C and to keep 1.5°C within reach. It is therefore essential to maintain the political pressure and momentum at COP26, and to convince, in particular, the world's largest emitters, to take urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions more quickly.

Paris also set a goal for developed countries to collectively mobilise USD 100 billion per year, between 2020 and 2025, to support developing countries in cutting emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change. While the goal has not yet been reached, the UK COP Presidency's recent climate finance delivery plan indicates that developed countries will make significant progress towards the USD100 billion goal in 2022, and provides confidence that it will be met in 2023. The data also provides confidence that developed countries can mobilise more than $100 billion per year thereafter through to 2025.  While the EU and its Member States are the largest contributor of international public climate finance, there is an urgent need for other developed countries to contribute more. At COP26, the donor community must collectively reassure developing countries that it will deliver on this promise.

The EU expects the technical negotiations in Glasgow to complete the "Rulebook" necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. In Paris, Parties agreed to use common rules to report their greenhouse gas emissions and for tracking progress towards meeting their national targets in a transparent, verifiable and comparable way. In Glasgow, they must complete this work by agreeing on the reporting formats that will put these rules into practice. Parties must also agree specific rules for those Parties engaging in international carbon markets that will ensure that such trading does not result in the double counting of emissions reductions. Glasgow must also put in place the additional rules necessary to kick start a new international mechanism for the certification of carbon offsets in a way that promotes ambition and environmental integrity. The decisions should ensure environmental integrity and create strong incentives to reduce emissions now and in the future. This means avoiding the use of past emissions reductions to undermine current and future ambition.

3. What is the EU doing to reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions?

The EU takes the lead in the green transition and shows the way on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. We have an ambitious, binding legislative framework covering all sectors of the economy in place to deliver on our commitment. From 1990 to 2020, the EU's total GHG emissions decreased by 31%, while its economy grew by over 60%.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has made climate action the top priority for the EU, rolling out the European Green Deal and underlining the need to further raise ambition and accelerate action to enable Europe to become the world's first climate-neutral continent by 2050.

In December 2020, the EU further stepped up its ambition on climate action, and increased its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 and reach climate neutrality by 2050. These targets are binding EU law under the European Climate Law, which was adopted by the European Parliament and Council, and came into force in July 2021.

In July 2021, the European Commission presented a comprehensive package of legislative proposals, which set the course for the EU to reach its ambitious new GHG reductions in a fair, cost effective and competitive way. The package combines market-based mechanisms with more ambitious, legally binding targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency, the preservation and increase of natural carbon sinks, a faster roll-out of low emission transport, including the infrastructure and fuels to support them, as well as an alignment of taxation policies with the European Green Deal objectives and measures to prevent carbon leakage.

4. What is the role of international carbon markets in the implementation of the Paris Agreement?

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement recognises the potential of international carbon markets to achieve emission reductions in a cost efficient way and to spur private sector investment.

Article 6.2 provides an accounting framework for international cooperation, such as linking the emissions-trading schemes of two or more countries (for example, linking the European Union cap-and-trade program with the Swiss cap-and-trade program). It also allows for the bilateral transfer of carbon credits between countries.

Article 6.4 establishes a central UN mechanism to certify tradable credits from emissions reductions generated through specific projects. For example, an investor in country A could fund a wind farm in country B to replace electricity generated by a coal plant. Emissions are reduced, country B benefits from the clean energy and, as long as the emissions reductions exceed country B's Paris target, the investor can sell the credit to country A to use towards its Paris target.

The EU recognises that emission trading is an efficient tool to reduce emissions where strict monitoring, reporting and verification rules are applied to ensure the environmental integrity of such a market. The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), set up in 2005, is the world's first major carbon market. It is a cornerstone of the EU's policy to combat climate change and its primary tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively. In July 2021, the European Commission presented a proposal to widen the scope and tighten the application of the EU ETS to match the ambition of the EU's new GHG emissions reduction target of at least 55% by 2030.

The EU works to ensure that international offsets are certified to high standards of environmental integrity, and that trades are fully accounted for, so that the Paris Agreement mechanism effectively contributes to cost efficient emission reductions. The EU's NDC is based on domestic emissions reductions, and the EU will not rely on the internationally certified offsets generated under the Paris Agreement mechanism to achieve its NDC.

How does the Paris Agreement address adaptation and loss and damage associated with the impacts of climate change?

The Paris Agreement establishes a global goal on adaptation to climate change, namely to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The global stocktake, which will take place every five years starting from 2023, will review the overall progress towards this goal. The Paris Agreement also recognises the importance of averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with climate change, including extreme weather events, such as floods, landslides, storms and forest fires, and slow onset events such as the loss of fresh water aquifers and glaciers.

Adaptation is a key element of EU policy and planning. The European Commission adopted its new Adaptation Strategy in February 2021 to make adaptation smarter, swifter and more systemic, as well as stepping up international action on adaptation to climate change. National, regional and local adaptation strategies are gaining ground since the adoption of the first EU Adaptation Strategy in 2013. Today, 3,400 cities and local governments in the EU have committed to developing their adaptation capacity in the framework of the EU Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy. The EU is committed to supporting partner countries to take climate action, including adaptation efforts. The share of EU climate finance targeted at adaptation is increasing, with particular focus on the most vulnerable countries. In 2019, more than 50% of climate finance from the EU budget (excluding Member State funds) was dedicated to adaptation projects.

In Glasgow, the EU will support efforts to strengthen the ability of the Paris Agreement to catalyse and scale up international support to vulnerable communities through early warning systems for extreme weather events; disaster preparedness and risk management; insurance schemes; humanitarian relief and recovery.

6. How does the Paris Agreement ensure countries deliver on their commitments?

The enhanced transparency framework set up under the Paris Agreement will build mutual trust and confidence and promote effective implementation of the Paris commitments. It will track the progress made individually by Parties in the implementation of their NDCs, as well as provide data to support the global stocktakes and assess progress towards the long-term goals.

Solid multilateral transparency and accountability guidelines can also help countries design good policies at home, by providing an incentive to build and maintain domestic institutions, data collection and tracking systems that policymakers need to make the right decisions.

The transparency, accountability and compliance system under the Paris Agreement is not punitive, but it is meant to identify when Parties are off track and help them to get back on track if they are not delivering. The system is underpinned by comprehensive requirements and procedures applicable to all Parties to track and facilitate their performance. These include technical expert reviews, a multilateral peer review process, and a standing committee on implementation and compliance.

7. What does the Paris Agreement mean for the EU's contribution to climate finance for developing countries?

At the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries collectively committed to jointly mobilise USD 100 billion of public and private climate finance per year by 2020. In Paris in 2015, this goal was extended until 2025. The funding should come from a wide variety of sources – public and private, bilateral and multilateral, and alternative sources of finance – in the context of meaningful mitigation action and transparent implementation by developing countries.

The EU, its Member States and the European Investment Bank are together the biggest contributor of public climate finance to developing countries, providing over €21 billion (24.45 billion dollars) in 2020 alone. The EU and Member States are also the world's top provider of official development assistance (a total €67 billion in 2020), with climate action being increasingly integrated into the assistance.

Overall, significant financial resources are needed to implement the Paris Agreement. Under the agreement, countries have committed to making finance flows consistent with a low-emission, climate-resilient pathway, to help achieve the long-term climate goals.

In this context, the EU has launched an ambitious sustainable finance agenda. The EU also supports developing countries in improving their conditions for mobilising low-carbon finance. In October 2019, the EU launched the International platform on sustainable finance (IPSF) to scale up the mobilisation of private capital towards environmentally sustainable investments. The platform now comprises 17 members, representing 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of the world population and 55% of global GDP.

8. What is the role for non-state actors in climate action?

The Paris Agreement recognises the crucial role of non-state actors, businesses, local governments, cities and other organisations in the transition to a low-carbon and climate-resilient world.

The Global Climate Action Agenda (GCAA) – also known as the Marrakech Partnership on Global Climate Action – was launched in 2016 to catalyse action on climate change by all players, to further increase ambition before 2020 and support the Paris Agreement goals.

The EU and its Member States have been proactive in promoting and sponsoring specific initiatives under the Global Climate Action Agenda, such as the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy and Mission Innovation.

The high-level events on global climate action and the thematic days at COP26 will be excellent opportunities to reflect on progress made under existing initiatives, as well as for announcements on new initiatives.

EU at COP26 – information on EU participation in COP26, side events in the EU Pavilion and press briefings held by the EU delegation

Paris Agreement

Source: European Commission