Durham University to attend vital UN climate summit

By Cameron McAllister

Durham University has been granted provisional observer status for the COP26 climate summit scheduled to take place later this year in Glasgow. This means the University will be able to send representatives to attend United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meetings, negotiations and sessions at the summit. It would also allow the University to attend future UNFCCC conferences.

To achieve formal observer status the University had to demonstrate that it met ten criteria, including a commitment to climate change research and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Recently, the University entered the world top 100 for sustainability for the first time in the Times Higher Education Global Impact Rankings, which judges universities based on their contribution to the SDGs. However, the University has so far resisted calls to declare a climate emergency.

“The world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”

The final decision on whether the University should be granted formal status will be made at COP26 itself. If accepted, the University would join a list of fewer than 30 UK universities with formal COP26 observer status. It is hoped that giving academics a first-hand view of the high-level negotiations in Glasgow will lead to new research and be an opportunity for increased collaboration.

What is COP26?

COP26 is the latest United Nations climate change conference. It will be hosted in November by the UK, in partnership with Italy. COP itself means ‘Conference of the Parties’, referring to counties that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that will all be attending the summit. The ‘26’ simply indicates that this will be the 26th meeting, originally due to take place in 2020.

It was at COP21 in 2015 that the Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement between the 195 countries attending to try to limit the global temperature increase to below 1.5C, was negotiated. The US left the Paris Agreement in 2020 but re-joined in 2021 under the new Biden administration.

COP25 in Madrid in 2019 was the longest annual UN climate conference but was considered disappointing by most due to its lack of meaningful resolutions. At COP25 the aim was to agree a “rulebook” to implement the Paris Agreement. Instead, the parties agreed to delay the decisions about this rulebook until the next COP, hence why COP26 is considered so important. The official COP26 website describes it as “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control”.

Image: Stephen O’Donnell via Unsplash

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