UN Climate Summit, Glasgow 2020

The UN climate negotiations (a.k.a COP26) were due to be held in Glasgow in November but this has been delayed due to the coronavirus. This page looks at what a COP is and why it matters.

What is COP?

COP is an abbreviation of ‘Conference of the Parties’ to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) –  also known as the UN climate conference, climate talks, climate summit or climate negotiations!

COP takes place every year, and is the main forum for negotiations on global efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Some climate justice activists have described these talks as “negotiating who lives and dies.”

COP coming to Glasgow has been postponed

This year’s UN Climate Summit (COP26) was due to be held in the SEC in Glasgow from 9 – 20th November 2020. However, in April 2020 it was decided to postpone the event due to the coronavirus.

This decision has been taken by representatives of the COP Bureau of the UNFCCC, along with the UK Government and its Italian partners.

Dates for a rescheduled conference in 2021, hosted in Glasgow by the UK in partnership with Italy, will be set out in due course following further discussion with parties.

Read our full press statement in reaction to the postponement

When should the postponed COP take place then?

Because of the urgency of the climate crisis, we believe that COP26 needs to take place in the first half of 2021 and COP27 should still happen as planned that autumn.

The climate talks should go ahead as soon as it is safe to hold them. It is essential however that they do so on the basis that global south nations are able to fully attend and demand the action necessary to deal with the climate emergency. This means full access for global south nations, experts and activists.

There is historical precedent for two sets of climate talks in one year, with two rounds of climate negotiations taking place in 2001 in Bonn and Marrakech.

COP is an opportunity for climate action in Scotland.

It was supposed to bring thousands of climate justice activists, international organisations, and people from frontline and Indigenous communities to Scotland, giving us an incredible opportunity to connect and learn from each other.

We must ensure that global South voices can participate in Glasgow, and that we listen to their demands for climate justice

This is also a chance to grow our movement in Scotland, and make demands for bold local and national action while the spotlight is on our climate efforts.

Who attends?

At COP25 in Madrid last December, over 26,700 people from all around the world were registered to attend.

That included nearly 14,000 official negotiators, representing 197 different countries (parties) in the talks. These representatives contribute to the conference discussions about issues like cutting emissions and compensating countries impacted by climate breakdown.

Civil society (including NGOs, Indigenous, frontline and faith groups) also attend as ‘observers’ to the talks. Friends of the Earth Scotland attends as observer every year,

They can assist or put pressure on their countries, highlight key issues and organise events. 

In Madrid there were nearly 10,000 people attending from observer organisations – such as scientists, business groups and various non-governmental organisations – and 3,076 journalists. [Breakdown from Carbon Brief]

But representation is not equal. The bigger, wealthier countries can send over 200 people, whereas global South nations may only be able to send 1 or 2.

Glasgow Scottish Events Campus

How can I get involved? 

When the summit is re-scheduled, it is important to note that most people in Scotland will not be able to get passes to go inside the official UN summit. However, this doesn’t mean you’ll be missing out! Far from it. There will be a mass mobilisation and a people’s summit.

Keep me updated with the plans for Glasgow Climate Summit COP26: join our email list 

What happens inside the UN Climate Summit?

Inside the COP, organisations and activists challenge decision makers – holding events, lobbying, and staging protests calling on governments to act on specific issues in the talks. 

Protests are highly regulated – by permit only, restricted to particular ‘protest areas’, and are forbidden from naming countries or companies.

Despite this, these daily protests are a crucial tactic for putting pressure on negotiators, raising awareness and gaining media coverage.

Outside the UN Climate Summit

Alongside most COPs there is a day of mass mobilisation, normally a huge march. Sometimes this has a specific local demand e.g. in Germany in 2017 the international movement came together in a huge march to demand Germany ends coal production.

Often, there is an alternative space for workshops, talks and discussion between the international organisations and activists that have come for the COP – an amazing opportunity to meet, listen to and learn from communities on the frontline of the climate crisis. Groups are still working on finalising plans for Glasgow in 2020 so watch this space. 

What are the major issues on the table in this year’s discussions?

1. Climate Ambition

The Paris Agreement is a global agreement within the United Nations Framework on Climate Change signed in 2016. It aims to keep global average temperature rise well below 2oC warming compared to pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5oC.

The Paris deal is due to take legal effect in 2020, yet countries’ pledges to reduce their emissions currently fall far short of the 1.5oC or even the 2oC target. The Glasgow Summit will see pressure on big polluters, including the EU and the US, to do their fair share and increase their climate targets.

 2. Climate Finance

Ten years ago, at the Copenhagen climate talks (COP15), rich countries pledged to pay $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries by 2020. Months away from this deadline and only a fraction of that finance is on the table. This money is essential to enable developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change and mitigate their own emissions. Global South countries are right to demand that the Global North delivers on their commitments to climate finance.

Rich countries owe a climate debt – they must pay up. Read more

 3. Loss & Damage

 The Loss and Damage mechanism aims to address the issue of what happens in terms of compensation when it is no longer possible to adapt to the impacts of climate change, including the loss of lands, livelihoods and associated cultures. This is a reality that horrifyingly many nations and communities, particularly in the Global South are already facing. 

 Big polluters, like the US and the EU, have been resistant to demands for Loss and Damage payments.

 4. Carbon Markets

One of the big things to be agreed in Glasgow will be the rules for carbon markets –  allowing emissions to be traded between nations and companies. Negotiations on carbon markets broke down at COP24 in Madrid, December 2019, meaning that the issue is now pushed to Glasgow.

Carbon markets are a highly contentious issue due to the human rights impacts of carbon offsetting schemes, the fact that they fail to deliver real emissions reductions, and instead strengthen the power of big, unaccountable corporations.

Webinar: Learn about the UN Climate Summit

We spoke to campaigners at the 2019 UN climate talks in Madrid to explain some of the key issues. This webinar also gives a introduction to what a COP is, and what we can expect when it comes to Glasgow.


Friends of the Earth Scotland is part of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice