COP Context: The carbon footprint of a UN climate summit

If fully delivered, the announcements at COP26 could save over 72,000 more CO2e in 2030 than the summit emitted itself.

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By John Lang


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Every UN climate summit causes greenhouse gas emissions, mainly from delegates travelling to the destination city by aircraft. While COP26 was offset by UN Certified Emission Reductions, it is still important to put its emissions into wider context.

The COP26 summit in Glasgow was relatively emissions intensive as COPs go, but only represented 0.00022% of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally.

If the summit's emissions are placed in the context of what COP26 announcements have promised to deliver in emissions savings, the scale of the disparity between COP26 emissions and those that could be prevented by its implementation is massive: over 70,000 times.

    The carbon footprint of a UN COP climate summit
    • COP26 summit emissions were 0.00022% or 2 millionths or 1:449,238 of global annual greenhouse gas emissions
    • If delivered upon, emissions savings of COP26 announcements would prevent 72,200 times more CO2e in the year 2030 than the emissions associated with the COP26 summit itself.
    • The above figure is just the emissions in one year (2030), ignoring the much larger cumulative emissions savings.

    Or one could think about it with the help of a few Titanics, each representing 46,328 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

    • COP26 summit emissions: 3 Titanics
    • Annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions: 1.3 million Titanics
    • Potential CO2 emissions savings if COP26 delivers on all of its promises: 205,000 Titanics
      Image credit: Lux's Type Collection, Ocean liners — Titanic