COP27 is around the corner! So we have decided to take a look at the foundation of the event and the history behind it.
This year, COP27 will take place from 6 to 18 November in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh. At the COP Meetings, influential stakeholders, heads of States, ministers, negotiators, climate activists, civil society representatives, and CEOs meet to discuss how to tackle the climate emergency we face. The aim of the COP Meetings is that countries come together to take action toward achieving the climate goals that were agreed upon under the Paris Agreement, The Kyoto Protocol, and ‘The Convention.’ For a chronological list of the different COP Meetings, see here.
In addition to the Climate COPs, there are also separate Biodiversity COPs. For more information about the coming Biodiversity COP15 to be held in Canada in December, read here.
Conference of the Parties (COP): The different Climate COP Meetings
COP stands for Conference of the Parties. The Conference of the Parties meetings includes the COP Meetings such as the COP27 and CMP and CMA Meetings. CMP and CMA meetings take place during the same period as the COP meetings. CMP is Conferences where Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are represented, and states that are not parties to the Kyoto Protocol participate as observers. The same goes with the CMA, where parties to the Paris Agreement are represented, and states that are not parties to the Agreement attend as observers. The purposes of the COP, CMP, and CMA Meetings are to review the implementation of the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, respectively, and to adopt decisions to develop, implement and follow these three instruments.
The foundation of coming COP27 and earlier meetings is in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement. So let’s take a brief look at these three instruments.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Convention on Climate Change’s ultimate objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human-induced) interference with the climate system.” Furthermore, it states that “such a level should be achieved within a time frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”
198 countries have ratified the Convention and are called Parties to the Convention. The Convention builds on the thought that industrialized countries should do the most to cut emissions on home grounds. This is because these countries are the source of most past and current greenhouse gas emissions. The countries are called Annex I countries and belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Following the Convention, The (Annex I) industrialized countries have to report regularly on their climate change policies and measures. Developing countries (Non-Annex I countries) have to report more generally on their actions to address climate change and adapt to its impacts – but less regularly than Annex I Parties.
The Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol was adopted as the first addition to the Convention on 11 December 1997. However, due to a complex ratification process, it did not enter force before 16 February 2005. Currently, there are 192 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol sets emission reduction targets for 37 industrialized countries and economies in transition and the European Union.
Like the Convention, the Kyoto Protocol only binds developed countries and places a heavier burden on them under the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility and respective capabilities.” It hereby recognizes that the developed countries are primarily responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere. The signatories of the Kyoto Protocol committed to developing national programs to limit the long-term effects of global warming.
The Kyoto Protocol has provided several means for countries to reach their targets, such as the Clean Development Mechanism and the Emissions trading system. The Protocol has been presented as one of the most significant environmental treaties ever negotiated, yet its success and effectiveness are questioned by critics. Reports issued in the first two years after the Protocol took effect indicated that most participants would fail to meet their emission targets. And according to critics, even if emission targets were completed, the benefit to the environment would not be significant enough. This was due to China and the United States, two main emitters of greenhouse gasses, who were not bound by the Protocol.
The Paris Agreement
After a series of conferences with disagreements, in 2015, at the COP21, held in Paris, France, world leaders signed a global agreement. The Agreement set long-term goals to guide all nations, including to:
- Substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase in this century to 2 degrees Celsius while pursuing efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees
- Review countries’ commitments every five years
- Provide financing to developing countries to mitigate climate change, strengthen resilience and enhance abilities to adapt to climate impacts.
The Agreement entered into force on 4 November 2016. 193 Parties (192 countries plus the European Union) have joined the Paris Agreement. The Agreement includes commitments from all countries to reduce their emissions and work together.
Every five years, each country is expected to submit an updated national climate action plan, known as Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC. In the NDCs, governments must communicate actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reach the Agreement’s goals. Countries also share in the NDCs how they will build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.
The Paris Agreement is described as a “legally binding international treaty on climate change.” Yet many criticize the Agreement for not living up to this characterization since it does not impose penalties, such as fees or embargo, for parties that violate its terms and since there is no international court or governing body to enforce compliance. This is among several reasons the Paris Agreement is unstable and difficult to achieve.
Status quo? What happened at the last COP26 in Glasgow
The COP26 in 2021 did manage to meet the goal of keeping the Paris Agreement’s aim to limit global warming to 1.5 °C. Yet as stated by the COP26 President, Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP, this only happened barely: “We can now say with credibility that we have kept 1.5 degrees alive. But its pulse is weak, and it will only survive if we keep our promises and translate commitments into rapid action. ”
At COP26, it was agreed:
- Countries will have to keep pledging to further cuts to emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).
- To phase-down unabated coal power, the single most significant source of global temperature rise.
- Significantly increase money to help developing countries cope with climate change’s effects and switch to clean energy.
- The US and China will cooperate more over the next decade in areas including methane emissions and the switch to clean energy.
- To stop deforestation by 2030. This was agreed by leaders from more than 100 countries – with about 85% of the world’s forests.
- To cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030. This was agreed upon by more than 100 countries.
- Financial organizations agreed to back “clean” technology, such as renewable energy, and direct finance away from fossil fuel-burning industries.
So despite the shortfalls of COP26, progress was made. However, ensuring that these goals are followed and prioritized remains a challenge. There are no international courts or mechanisms empowered to enforce these pledges.
What now? The mission of COP27
The COP27 will build on the outcomes of COP26 to deliver action on issues critical to tackling the climate emergency – from urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience, and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries. At COP27, Nations are expected to demonstrate that they are in an era of implementation and agreements and that efforts towards the commitments made under the Paris Agreement are made.
But at the point in time where we are now: Facing war, injustice, a growing energy crisis, record greenhouse gas concentrations, and increasing extreme weather events, the mission of COP27 seems almost impossible. In these times, it is essential to keep speaking up and use what is in our individual and collective power to urge and push for action and legislation from governments to support the goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the statement after the COP26, where he broadly acknowledged the power of activists to propel governments and companies beyond words and into action: “Never give up. Never retreat. Keep pushing forward.”