The road to COP26: our essential reading list

26 October 2021

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© ELG21 from Pixabay
For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together governments for global climate summits – called 'Conference of the Parties’ (COPs). In that time climate change has gone from being a fringe issue to a global priority, and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and multiple catastrophic weather events the need to address the climate crisis is more urgent than ever.

In 2015, at COP21 in Paris, every country that attended agreed to work together to aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, to adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and to make money available to deliver on these aims. Under the Paris Agreement, countries committed to set national plans detailing how they would reduce their emissions to meet this goal and to assess and "ratchet up" their ambition every 5 years – which means they should have been reviewed in 2020.

With 2020's COP meeting delayed until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's meeting at COP26 - being hosted by the UK in Glasgow from 1st to 12th November - is crucial for the planet and for the ongoing success of the Paris Agreement.

Climate change is a complex problem, with myriad contributing factors, from finance and business, manufacturing and shipping, plastics and recycling, to social attitudes and personal responsibility. So where do you start getting caught up for COP26?

We’ve asked some of our researchers for their recommendations of the best things to read, watch and listen to to get set for COP:

Hannah Ritchie

Dr Hannah Ritchie
Our World in Data

So many resources to choose from! I would recommend the recent video 'Can YOU fix climate change?' from Kurzgesagt. It explains the challenges we face in trying to decarbonise our economy, and what individuals can play in helping this. The video goes beyond the standard recommendations of turn the lights off, or recycle your plastic.

Lynch John

Dr John Lynch
Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food

Earlier this year the IPCC published the physical science component of their 6th Assessment Report. The most keen readers can go to the report itself! But this is a very lengthy and often rather technical resource.

This excellent CarbonBrief explainer, 'In-depth Q&A: The IPCC’s sixth assessment report on climate science', gives a more digestible but still very robust explanation of many of the key points of the IPCC report. From the state of the climate today, to future risks and the need for ‘net-zero’ CO2, the Q&A will provide very useful background on the current climate science.

Fervidal headshot

Dr Fernando Vidal Pena
Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Plastics

I'd recommend the Science special issue 'Our Plastics Dilemma'. I wouldn't highlight any piece in particular, but rather the whole special issue. It touches on many important topics, especially the effects of plastic production and waste management on CO2 emissions.


Kaya Axelsson
Oxford Martin Initiative on a Net Zero Recovery

Governance to support a global green deal: 11 ways to align global economic institutions with climate action in the next 12-36 months

Written from a series of workshops and consultations held in 2020 under the Future of Climate Cooperation project, a joint initiative of Mission 2020, the Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University, and the ClimateWorks Foundation, the report brings together expertise from different perspectives.

Penny Mealy

Dr Penny Mealy
Oxford Martin Programme on the Post Carbon Transition

Empirically grounded technology forecasts and the energy transition

This working paper from the Institute of New Economic Thinking at the Oxford Martin School finds that, compared to continuing with a fossil-fuel-based system, a rapid green energy transition will likely result in overall net savings of many trillions of dollars - even without accounting for climate damages or co-benefits of climate policy.

In addition to our researcher's recommendations, this article by Professor Eric Beinhocker in The Guardian - 'Climate change is morally wrong. It is time for a carbon abolition movement' - makes the moral argument for an immediate and total commitment to reversing climate change.

You can also get yourself into the COP26 mood by watching Christiana Figueres' 2018 James Martin Memorial Lecture on being stubbornly optimistic about climate change and her experiences of COP negotiations. Ms Figueres was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 2010-2016 and directed six COP conferences culminating in the historical Paris Agreement of 2015 at COP21.

This opinion piece reflects the views of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the Oxford Martin School or the University of Oxford. Any errors or omissions are those of the author.