The end of October marks the start of COP26, the annual United Nations conference on climate change. The conference is set to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, from November 1st to 12th. But what exactly is COP26 and what can it do for the planet?

In the eyes of many, COP26 is not just another international summit. Rather, it’s a pivotal moment for climate change that could determine how well we’re able to prevent the worst of the climate disasters that lie in the not-so-distant future. The official conference website notes that COP26 “has a unique urgency” and may be “the world’s best last chance to get runaway climate change under control.”

What is COP26?

COP stands for the Conference of the Parties. It is the decision-making body of the United Nations’ Convention on Climate that takes place each year for the plast 26 years. (Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference was postponed last year.)

Over the last few decades, these COPs have been instrumental in helping climate change evolve from a fringe issue to one of global import.

Why is COP26 important?

The world is warming faster than scientists previously thought.

At COP21, which took place in Paris in 2015, 196 countries agreed to work together to keep global temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, and aim for 1.5 C. From this, the Paris Agreement emerged. Under it, countries around the world committed to building out Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are essentially national plans for cutting emissions. Every five years, countries would come back with an updated plan. (As noted above, NDCs were delayed one year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.)

For COP26, 200 countries are unveiling their plans to cut emissions by 2030. Specific pledges around ending coal use, switching to electric vehicles, and doing more to protect nature are also expected.

General consensus is that the targets laid out in Paris in 2015, while monumental, did not go far enough in mitigating climate change. According to the BBC, these targets would result in “well above 3 degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels.”