UK Government’s Plans for COP26 in November 2021 (Part 1), by Matt Toombs

By Asitha Jayawardena

What are the UK Government’s plans for COP26 in November 2021?

This is what Matt Toombs, Director of Partnerships and Engagement for the COP26 team in Cabinet Office, delivered in his keynote address at LSBU Sustainability and Climate Action Event Series on 22 June 2020. He outlined the Government’s plans and priorities for the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference in Glasgow on 1-12 November 2021 and this is the largest international summit the UK has ever hosted.

Part one of this post covers an introduction to COP26 and part two will cover the five focus areas of the conference.

What is COP?

Five years ago, the leaders of 197 countries committed to a historic agreement to tackle climate change. They agreed to limit global average temperature increases to well below 2C of pre-industrial levels and, if possible, to 1.5C. They also committed efforts to step up tackle adaptation to the impact of climate change and shift the global finance system behind this.

Next year, the UK is going to be hosting COP26 in partnership with Italy. We are the incoming presidency and we are working with Chile, who is the current presidency.

Next November in Glasgow, Scotland, the expertise right around the world heads of state, climate activists, experts, campaigners, entrepreneurs all agree to the coordinated action to tackle climate change. This is genuinely global.

The COP process came out in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 which was the first point where governments from across the world came together to agree on the international climate change treaty and there are 197 countries signed up to this.

Why COP26 is special

COP26 is special for a couple of reasons.

The first point since Paris is when countries come together to assess the delivery of Paris commitments – how much they are doing, stepping up the commitment made in Paris. So, there is a critical point of seeing whether the commitment made from 5 years ago has been followed through and what’s being done in practice against them.

The second is that this is the first COP to be held during the Covid19 pandemic which has a huge impact on the global economy and raises a lot of questions about how the economy could rebuild itself coming through that.

Halving emissions

Last five years have been among the hottest on record globally. Climate change is happening and is increasing.

The Paris agreement looks to avoid the worst of these impacts but the current levels of national commitments need to increase by three to five times to deliver on the Paris goals. We need to halve global emissions by the next decade to do that. The role of science and the role of IPCC and the scientists globally in informing this is crucial and that is built into the core of the UN process on the way that the programme works.

COP26, UK and Italy

As we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the UK like every other country faces a choice about laying the foundation of sound sustainable increases of growth and locking in emissions for decades to come. So that’s why it is important collectively we support resilience, recovery, helping deliver the climate commitments we all made.

UK as the hosts of COP26 in the run-up to November 2021, we will be pushing for as high ambition as possible to reduce emissions, to build adaptation and resilience and to support each other.

The other advantage that 2021 brings to us is the opportunity that we have as the UK and Italy will be hosts of the G7 and G20. It provides a fairly unique opportunity over next year around climate diplomacy to using those to support climate ambition.

The vision of the UK’s presidency

One part of the vision of the UK’s presidency is securing agreement to outstanding elements of what is called the Paris rule book. So, the COP process is a negotiating forum for 197 countries to agree on how the Paris agreement can be implemented so that we as the presidency need to support the balanced conclusion of that rule book. Therefore, we give the greatest potential of delivering in Paris.

It is also about taking action and setting out a high level of ambition as is possible towards working resilience. That’s why we are championing a society approach, working a wider range of partners as possible to enable us to support that high level of global climate action. That’s why we want to work with young people, academics, investors, civil society, businesses, regions and countries.

We are committed to an inclusive presidency, working with indigenous, modularised groups, experts and activists of the global South and wider civil society.

We are looking to amplify these voices in the conference and run-up to it, guided by principles of diverse and inclusive participation.

Nigel, high-level action champion

Nigel Topping

This is something that we are doing as a presidency and also working with the role of high-level action champion. Nigel Topping is the high-level action champion. He is also supporting the UN in its formal processes to reaching out to diverse groups across the world. He has recently launched a Race to Zero campaign which is trying to build up a broad coalition committed to net-zero commitments.

UK presidency strategy

The first aim of the UK presidency strategy is enabling successful negotiations as well as increases in national commitments, including as many net-zero plans and commitments as possible. Over a hundred countries have already committed to net-zero commitments but we need to accelerate beyond those who already have, particularly highest emitters.

The outcomes of COP26 needs to demonstrate that net-zero climate-resilient transition is inevitable and is accelerating. This needs to be driven by the best available science.

The three pillars of ambition are mitigation, adaptation and finance. We need to work with a range of different countries and climate-vulnerable countries, showcasing leadership and increasing pressure on all other countries. We need to work with countries that are on the brink of choosing which part to take, whether to take a high carbon or low carbon path. We need to provide them an enabling environment to choose the low carbon route. We are working with the major emitters to show the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables and other low carbon technologies.


The UK is shifted into the presidency mode and we have taken part in the role of custodians of the Paris agreement and this convention. We the UK will work with the UN and a wide range of partners, countries and other groups to make it a success in November 2021.


Keynote address: What are the Government’s Plans for COP26?



Race To Zero Campaign



  1. Great summary, Asitha. The UK seems to be taking several aspects of a green recovery seriously. Perhaps the responsibility of being the COP president is one of the driving factors. Thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Saurab. As the COP26 president, UK has a lot to do and one more year is added to this presidency. It’s true that the UK is taking several aspects of green recovery seriously. Over one year has to go (until Nov 2021) and we would wait and see!

    Liked by 1 person

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