113. The Last Chance to Save the World?: COP 26 Explained!! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

Over the next two weeks, almost every country and world leader will gather in Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the world’s most important climate conference, COP26. What are they going to discuss, who is going to attend, will it be a success, and is it really the last chance to save the world? Let’s discuss this on today’s episode of Thinking in English!

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Vocabulary List

Conclusive (adj) – proving that something is true, or ending any doubt

They had conclusive proof of his guilt

Industrialisation (n) – the process of developing industry within a country

The rapid industrialisation of Asian countries has caused many social problems

Drastic (adj) – (especially of actions) severe and sudden or having very noticeable effects

Many employees have had to take drastic cuts in pay

Summit (n) – an important formal meeting between leaders of governments from two or more countries

World leaders will meet next week for their annual economic summit

To tackle (v) – to try to deal with something or someone

I tackled him about his disrespectful comments

Jargon (n) – special words and phrases that are used by particular groups of people, especially in their work

I couldn’t understand what the lawyer was saying – he used so much legal jargon

Net zero (adj) – when talking about the environment, net zero means removing as many emissions (gases that cause the earth to warm up) as it produces

The main goal was to be a carbon-neutral or net-zero city

Reluctant (adj) – not willing to do something and therefore slow to do it

I was having such a good time I was reluctant to leave

The science is pretty conclusive – human actions have caused our planet to warm up. Latest research shows that we have already heated the planet 1.1 degrees Celsius compared to before industrialisation, and these temperatures are very likely to continue to rise above 1.5 degrees in the next few decades. In fact, the past decade was already the warmest on record. As temperatures increase, there are various highly damaging consequences that come alongside. We will see more extreme weather events -more flooding, more droughts, more forest fires, more tropical storms like hurricanes. Ecosystems will be threatened, animals endangered, and people’s livelihoods at risk. Oceans will rise and countries (especially those in Pacific Islands like Tuvalu and Kiribati) may be completely lost.

However, there is still some hope. If the world carries on with no change, then we will see terrible consequences. But, if we take drastic action to change the ways we use energy and pollute the environment, then we might still be able to stop temperatures from reaching the most destructive levels. This is why the UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26, is being described as “the world’s best last chance” to save our environment. So, on this episode of Thinking in English, I’m going to try to explain what COP26 is, who is joining, what they are going to do, and if it really can save the planet!

What is COP26? Simply put, it is the biggest, most influential, most attended, and most important climate conference on the planet. In 1995, the United Nations started to host an annual event inviting the leaders of almost every country to come together and discuss environmental problems. Every year since (apart from 2020 due to the Covid19 pandemic), every United Nations member which has signed up to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (so over 190) has been invited to attend the meetings. They discuss climate targets and try to reach agreements on how every country can work together to solve problems. These annual summits have the formal name “Conference of Parties” which is where the acronym COP comes from!

This year is COP26. The summit is being hosted from October 31 to November 12 in Glasgow, the second biggest city in Scotland. This year is seen as particuarly vital if climate change is going to be seriously tackled by the world. Actually, to be completely honest, I’m quite sure that almost every single COP meeting has had a similar theme – the meeting is the world’s last chance. I guess this year is a little different as last years COP was cancelled. If you’ve paid attention to previous COP meetings, you will likely have noticed a lot of different jargon and announcements: the Berlin meeting in 1995 produced a ‘mandate’; Bali 2007 an action plan; Kyoto 1997 a protocol; Durban 2011 a platform; and Paris 2015 an agreement. Basically, while all technically different things, these COPS all resulted in some kind of agreement or plan for change. Not every COP is successful, however – Copenhagen in 2011 was more like a breakdown!

In 2015, due to what is known as the Paris agreement, all countries agreed to make major changes in their economies and industry to keep global warming to only 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, all countries have to keep making larger emissions reductions until reaching net zero in 2050. For COP26 in Glasgow, every country is being asked to explain what they have done, and what they are planning to do, to achieve the Paris agreement.

Most countires have already revealed their plans to reduce emissions before COP26 starts, but there will be a lot of new agreements and announcements over the next two weeks. Many of these decisions will be highly technical and scientific, about specific targets or methods to implement the Paris agreement. Other announcements could include ways to speed up the switch to electric cars, how the world is going to stop using coal, what to do about deforestation, and how we can protect people from the impact of climate change.

Up to 25,000 delegates from 200 different countries are expected to join the summit in Glasgow. This number includes world leaders, politicians, diplomats, scientists, media, businesspeople, and activists. However, three of the most important countries’ leaders are unlikely to travel to the UK: China’s President Xi, Russia’s Putin, and Brazil’s Bolsonaro. China is one of the world’s largest polluters, Russia is a major producer of fossil fuels, and Brazil is home to the Amazon rainforest which is one of the best ways to clean the air. Moreover, 100,000 protestors and activists are expected to campaign at the event.

No matter what you read in the newspapers or see on TV, COPs do matter and are important. All countries agreed in 2015 to limit the world’s rising temperatures. This is amazing considering rules which mean that the pace was chosen by the least willing country – in a nutshell the most reluctant country decided how fast to make changes. Perhaps more important than the actual events are the accompanying community of scientists, diplomats, activists, and the public which has successfully changed the way people view the environment over the last 25 years.

There is still an issue about fairness. Particularly for Asian countries. For Asian economies to continue to grow and develop, they will need more energy than ever before. If they keep using fossil fuels, these countries will also have to deal with costs and environmental problems. However, if they give up fossil fuels, they are in many ways giving up more than developed western countries. In Europe emissions are already falling, but in Asia energy use will continue to increase over the next few years. India has made this argument constantly over the past few years – they say other countries (like the USA, Germany, and UK) who industrialised over a hundred years ago should be held responsible for their historical pollution.

There is also the issue of climate justice. Developing countries tend to produce less pollution that the rich developed nations, and they are certainly not responsible for most of historical emissions. However, it is developing nations most at risk from the effects of climate change. They need more money to help and cope with environmental problems like drought and flooding.

How will we know if COP26 is successful or a failure? The UK, the hosts this year, are likely going to push for a strong statement committing all countries to net zero emissions by 2050 and major reductions by 2030. The UK are also going to ask for pledges on ending coals use, switching to electric cars, and protecting the environment. Developing countries, on the other hand, will want more money and financial help to assist them in adapting to climate change. Some scientists, however, believe COP26 can never be successful – instead, maybe we have left it too late and no matter what is agreed during the summit the Paris agreement will never be met.

Final Thought

On this episode of Thinking in English, I have tried to introduce COP26. I tried to explain what COP26 is, who is attending, and what they are going to explain. I also introduced a few different issues that might be raised. Although the world agreed to change things in Paris 2015, there are still many unanswered questions and decisions not yet made. How are we going to remove carbon dioxide from the air? And who is going to do it? And who will pay? How much help are the poorer and developing countries going to receive? What are we doing to do to help communities most at risk from environmental change?

What do you think? Will the COP26 be a success or failure? Is it the last chance to save the world?

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