The changing climate affects every nation. It’s never been more important to enforce drastic environmental policies and conventions that address the severity of the situation.
One of the most influential environmental conventions is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), enforced by the Conference of the Parties (COP). This article discusses what the COP is, why this climate change conference matters, and what the future looks like for this summit.
The COP explained
The UNFCCC (also known as the Convention) was established in 1992 at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit. Here, an international environmental treaty was created and signed by 154 states. Its implementation began in 1994 — which is where the purpose of the COP comes in.
The COP is an annual climate summit created so world leaders can review and discuss the implementation of the Convention. During this meeting, environmental stewards worldwide assess the effectiveness of the measures implemented by the parties that have signed the UNFCCC. The first conference was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. Each year since, a different country has hosted the convention.
The events at the COP are divided into two zones: Blue and Green. The Blue Zone is for UN-registered representatives who work to coordinate responses to the climate crisis. In Green Zones, the hosting country (Presidency) creates space for the general public to take part in the convention. The Presidency usually organizes events, exhibits and performances for citizens to attend and observe.
The importance of the COP
This conference is a dedicated time for discussing significant climate change topics and projects. It’s a check-in to ensure all parties are meeting convention expectations and are genuinely making the changes they promised.
This accountability and constant evaluation is effective. Since the first conference, the parties have made notable achievements. They adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015, which focused on keeping the Earth’s surface temperature below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels to mitigate global warming. After COP26, they agreed to phase-out coal power and fossil fuel subsidies to reduce the rise of GHG emissions in the atmosphere.
The main goal of the COP
While the primary goal of this climate summit is to discuss the ongoing impacts of climate change and review the overall progress made by each member of the UNFCCC, each session typically has a secondary focus.
Here are some examples of items assessed at the conference.
- COP15: Debated how to motivate stubborn countries to adopt stricter measures for limiting emissions by 2020.
- COP25: Focused on finalizing the Paris Agreement.
- COP26: Discussed providing further initiatives for members of the UNFCCC to completely phase out coal use.
While the Convention provides an outline for the goals all UNFCCC members should meet, each party is responsible for assessing nationally contributed emissions and committing to self-made pledges. Often, these pledges are considered insufficient. The COP is where insufficiencies are addressed and stricter restrictions and more robust promises are demanded.
This summit is also the time to assess data showcasing where parties have fallen short on the previous year’s pledges, asking for a plan of action from these parties that can be reviewed the following year.
All UNFCCC parties are organized into five regional groups:
- Eastern Europe
- Latin America and the Caribbean
- Western Europe and Other States (including Australia, Canada, and the U.S.)
Other party groupings exist within the UNFCCC, including Arab States, the European Union, and Small Island States. These act as representatives of governments or “observer” organizations like charities.
Each year, the Presidency rotates between these five groups. The press and media, as well as representatives of observer organizations, also attend. Today there are 197 parties of the UNFCCC, and most of the representatives who attend the conference are government members.
When and where the conference takes place
The COP occurs annually, and each year the location is different. Every country has the chance to show its support of the convention’s principles by hosting the event. These location changes also strengthen the values of more vulnerable states, making for more diverse and productive negotiations.
Often, the meeting’s location adds a focus to the overall agenda of the conference. COP25 was held in Madrid, Spain, and the Chilean Presidency promoted the annual meeting as the "Blue COP" due to the country's long ocean preservation and leadership history. The location made the ocean’s role in mitigating climate change a central focus of the conference.
Last year’s COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland, focused on reducing emissions while increasing funding for climate initiatives. Some countries failed to make significant progress on funding — financial discrepancies must be addressed since the UN predicts adapting to climate measures will cost developing countries billions.
The future of the COP
In 1994, the UNFCCC asked the world to “act in the interests of human safety even in the face of scientific uncertainty.” Today, there’s no uncertainty — there’s a climate crisis and environmental stewards like those running the COP are necessary to ensure Convention protocols are met and improved upon when required.
COP27 will take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, on Nov. 6–18th, 2022. While climate change mitigation remains a crucial focus, the conversation will probably shift to climate change adaptation, as changes are already taking place, impacting mostly poor and underprivileged areas of the world.
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