October 4, 2021

What is COP26 and why is it important?

This is an important year for climate and ecological action. From 31 October – 12 November 2021, the UK will host a United Nations climate change conference known COP26. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and it will be attended by countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty agreed in 1994. The COP has met annually since 1995 and brings together heads of state, climate experts and campaigners to agree further coordinated action to tackle climate change.

Organisers will use this meeting to urge everyone to work together to limit carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The conference is being described as the most significant climate meeting since the 2015 Paris Agreement, which sought targets to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C. This was the first time a legally binding commitment to reduce emissions had been entered into by almost every country around the world.

A changing climate

Flooding in Maybury, Woking May 2016 (credit: Get Surrey)

Climate change is happening now, and it’s happening on our doorstep. It is not some distant far off prospect.

The State of the Climate report (July 2021) highlighted that the UK is already undergoing disruptive climate change. The year 2020 was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eighth sunniest on record. In the last 30 years, the UK has become 0.9C warmer and 6% wetter.

Furthermore, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest review of the science of climate change published in August 2021 stated that “it is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, oceans and land”. It finds that since 1970, global surface temperatures have risen faster than in any other 50-year period over the past 2,000 years. A summary of the report findings can be viewed here.

It is widely accepted that to avoid the worst effects of climate change, increases in global temperature need to be kept below 1.5C on pre-industrial levels.

To set this in context locally, in Woking the hottest summer day of the past 30 years was 36.1C. If global average temperatures increase 2C above pre-industrial levels, this could reach 38C. With a rise of 4C, it could be a scorching 43.2C. On the wettest summer day of the past 30 years, 43mm of rain fell in the Woking area. At just a 2C rise, this could be a very soggy 52mm (source: BBC/Met Office). Extreme weather events such as heatwaves and heavy downpours could become more frequent and more intense. In turn, these patterns will impact upon our health and wellbeing and the ability of local wildlife and habitats to adapt.

What will COP26 seek to achieve?

At COP26, countries will be asked to accelerate action towards those Paris Agreement goals and to commit to reaching net zero emissions as soon as possible with significant further cuts in emissions by 2030. In preparation of the Glasgow based conference, 200 countries will be asked to submit their proposals for how they plan to achieve this.

COP26 will likely result in tougher international and national commitments that look at reducing the environmental impact of our daily activities e.g. the way we travel, the way we heat our homes, where we source our food etc. There will also likely be further commitments made to helping those that are vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate for example through flood prevention and protection.  

A guide to COP26 and what the UK hopes to achieve through this critical climate conference is available here.

Climate change is a global issue but one that can be tackled locally

Woking Borough Council has long been committed to protecting the environment. Its first climate change strategy was adopted in 2002, although activities in this area began much earlier in 1990. A timeline of activities is available on the Council’s website.

There are two key strategies that underpin the Council’s activities in this area. Woking 2050 is the borough’s current climate change strategy, adopted in 2015.  This sets out a vision guiding our collective efforts to create a sustainable borough by reducing our impact on the environment. Complementing Woking 2050, is Natural Woking (adopted in 2016), which is the Council’s equivalent strategy for biodiversity and green infrastructure for the area. It sets out how we intend to enhance the provision and accessibility of green spaces, conserve existing biodiversity and habitats and create opportunities for species to return to the borough.

On 25 July 2019, Woking Borough Council declared a climate and ecological emergency. This cross-party declaration recognised the continued priority and commitment the borough gives to addressing climate change, both through mitigation and adaptation. The Council pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030 across its own estate and operations.

Further to the declaration, a Climate Emergency Action Plan (CEAP) was adopted. To find out more about how the Council is working with partners to tackle climate change locally, check out its climate webpages.

Planet Woking was launched in September 2020 to raise awareness of local action; but also to inspire and encourage you – the local community – to join us and continue to play your part in looking after our environment.

How you can make a difference

Whilst world leaders gather in Glasgow, we too can take action. By working together to make changes to the way we live, no matter how small, we can all make a difference.

Here are our top tips for cutting carbon at home:

  • Action Surrey has got loads of advice on how to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Home improvements like loft and cavity wall insulation and switching to LED lightbulbs could help cut carbon, reduce the amount of energy you use and save you money. In addition, you might be eligible for funding for some measures. Find out more at
  • Reduce food waste. According to the Surrey Environment Partnership, a family of four could save £70 a month just by reducing the amount of food they throw away. Avoid wasted food by planning meals, popping food in the freezer and using leftovers.
  • Move to a renewable energy tariff – The Energy Saving Trust says that by choosing a green tariff, it sends a message to your supplier and the wider energy industry that you wish to avoid electricity generated from fossil fuels and support renewable energy generation. Find out how to switch at   
  • Repair, reuse, recycle. Dust off those sewing skills by repairing that favourite top or furnish your home for less by sourcing preloved furniture through the Surrey Reuse Network.  There are lots of tips on how to reuse items and reduce waste at
  • Ditch the car for short journeys – by walking, scooting or cycling you can cut carbon whilst getting active.

But it’s not just about reducing carbon. Protecting and enhancing our local wildlife and biodiversity can not only help species of flora and fauna thrive but it can also help make us and our local habitats more resilient to adapting to the effects of a changing climate. Here’s how you can help…

  • If you have access to a garden or window box, plant flowers to support bees and other pollinators. The Surrey Wildlife Trust has lots of information on wildlife gardening and supporting species in decline at
  • Raingardens are landscaped areas designed to help slow down surface water run-off, reducing the risk of flooding. Find out how to create your own raingarden by using our handy guide.
  • Fancy getting involved in local climate and conservation volunteering? Local organisations such as Woking Environment Action and Woking Biodiversity Group help conserve our diverse range of habitats and species and welcome new volunteers. Find out more about these and other local volunteering opportunities here.  
  • Help a hedgehog! Sadly these much loved mammals are in decline. Give them a helping hand by creating a hedgehog highway in your garden or making a log pile for much needed shelter and food. Find out more here.

For more ideas and inspiration, check out the case studies on our Get Involved page.

By working together to make changes to the way we live, no matter how small, we can all make a difference to Planet Woking.


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