COP26: What happens if we don't act to stop the global average temperature rising above 1.5°C

Video report by ITV News Meridian's weather presenter and meteorologist Holly Green

One of the key things world leaders will be doing at COP26 is setting targets, which are critical if we are to limit the global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 

The warning is that if we continue as we are, temperatures will carry on climbing, bringing even more catastrophic flooding, fires, extreme weather and destruction of species.

This is seen as critical because as we know, scientists say we need to halve emissions by 2030 to be on track to keep heating below 1.5°C.

Yet the current plans get us nowhere near that. To put it in perspective, that means we need to be taking 28 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere by 2030 all the plans so far will take out four gigatons, leaving a massive gap.

The COP27 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP27? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP27 is the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt from November 6-18.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP27:

  • UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is attending the conference, after initially saying he wouldn't as he was too busy focusing on the economy within his first weeks in office.

  • US President Joe Biden and his experienced climate envoy, John Kerry, will appear at the talks.

  • France President Emmanuel Macron will also be among the heads of state from around the world staying in Egypt.

King Charles III will not be attending COP27, despite being a staunch advocate for the environment. The decision was made jointly by Buckingham Palace and former prime minister Liz Truss.

Elsewhere, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will not attend the talks just as they decided to do for COP26.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Ensure full implementation of the Paris Agreement and putting negotiations into concrete actions - included within this is the target of limiting global warming to well below 2C.

2. Cementing progress on the critical workstreams of mitigation, adaptation, finance and loss and damage, while stepping up finance notably to tackle the impacts of climate change.

3. Enhancing the delivery of the principles of transparency and accountability throughout the UN Climate Change process.

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A growing proportion of people are voicing concern about climate change, figures show Credit: Rui Vieira/PA

What is happening to our climate?

Professor Liz Bentley, Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society said: "We've seen dramatic changes in our climate in a short space of time.

"In the past it would have happened over a period of a thousand years or tens of thousands of years not at the current time it's happening just over decades.

"So we've seen a global average warming of just over 1°C but it's really important that we limit the extra warming that we are likely to see as we go forward.

"We put more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and they've gone for 1.5°C because that tries to limit the really extreme catastrophic weather events from happening once we get above 1.5°C."

Why is it happening?

Coal, oil and gas, known as fossil fuels, have transformed the way we live since the 19th century. 

Fast forward to today and we have cars, central heating, jet engines - all of which release greenhouse gases and in particular carbon dioxide.

Greenhouse gases are vital for sustaining life on Earth, without them our world would be tens of degrees colder. They act as a blanket around the planet.

The sun's ray can penetrate this blanket, getting absorbed by the Earth's surface which readmits them as heat.

The greenhouse gases then trap this heat within our atmosphere.

By burning fossil fuels and adding to these gases we upset a finally balanced system and the Earth gets warmer and warmer.

Credit: Omer Messinger/PA Images

What does the future look like if we don't make changes?

Temperatures in southern England have been reaching 38°C quite widely in recent years.

However, a Met Office report says we can expect to exceed 40°C before the end of the decade if we continue the way we are.

It could mean more extreme weather events like flooding, cliff falls and fires.

Can we stop temperatures rising?

There are possible reasons to be hopeful, for a start look at the hugely positive shifts, like cost reduction in fossil fuels, that in turn massively increase commercial incentives for countries to act.

We have come a long way in recent years. 80% of the world economy is now covered by net zero ambition (when the amount of greenhouse gases emitted is the same as that taken out from the atmosphere).

However, these ambitions are often political promises, which means they cannot be legally enforced, although it happens in some countries.