UN Climate Change Conference – COP

What is COP?

Conference of Parties (COP) is the supreme decision making body of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). COP can also mean the Conference of Parties of other international convention such as Basel Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar Convention etc. (This article refers to COP as COP of UN Climate Change Conference).

COP’s main task is to review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP has adopted. It also makes decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention. UNFCCC COP reviews the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties. It uses this information to assess the effects of the measures taken by Parties and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention.

Latest UN Climate Change Conference

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP26) is the latest COP being held at Glasgow, Scotland October 31, 2021 to November 12, 2021. It will bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

COP26 is being hailed as “the world’s best last chance” to get the climate emergency under control. The latest IPCC report of 2021 has concluded that humans have already heated the planet 1.1 °C and global temperatures are very likely to rise 1.5 °C above preindustrial levels in the next few decades. This translates to more extreme weather events, ecological threat and livelihood threat.  

Why is the Conference of Parties so important?

COP is used as a platform for reviewing what the parties have achieved and the progress made for emission reductions. Negotiations take place for the next round of emission reduction during COP. COP’s decision while not legally binding in themselves have legal force. Parties to UNFCCC attempt to actualize its provision by the adoption and implementation of decisions during COP.

Reducing carbon emission have tradeoffs. We are at this point because the emission from developed countries and in recent years emerging economies have emitted carbon responsible for the change in climate.

To limit climate change and its impacts there is a need to reduce human emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) as well as activities that reduce their concentration in the atmosphere. But our economies are heavily carbon reliant.  

So, what do we do?

We simply cannot afford to put off the urgency. Reducing the impacts of climate change is a shared responsibility but transitioning to a greener economy has many obstacles and is especially difficult for developing countries.

Countries have to be made responsible for their action. Carbon emission capping, carbon trading, and a mix of other approaches need to be taken to combat climate change.

This is precisely why COP is so important. These events shed light in these issues and invoke action required!

One such greatly successful event was Paris Agreement. This was COP21 and is important because at this event Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change. It was a binding agreement that brought all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.

With 197 Parties to the Conference, representing all sorts economic and social condition, reaching consensus can be quite difficult. Developing countries do not have the fund for adopting greener technologies and developed countries face difficulty in curbing their emission. At this junction, we need negotiations which device and follow ways to achieve green economy. Actions come from negotiations and consensus building. These also need to be reviewed and directed. So, while the process might be slow, this is the way to move ahead.

Why is the climate change problem so hard to solve?

There is disagreement on –

  • whether humans have contributed to the problem so, the concept of Anthropogenic climate change is still debatable. Wrong messengers further fuel climate skepticism. For instance, Trump administration has repeatedly proclaimed climate change as a conspiracy theory which has further fueled the misconception of sceptics towards climate change issues.
  • what countries are responsible for paying for the solution –
    • developing countries sought millions of dollars to reduce emissions at Copenhagen. Kyoto set a precedent that only developed countries would be expected to pay the cost of reducing emissions. Developing countries would either be exempt, or would expect to receive subsidies or technology transfer from developed countries to reduce emissions.
    • controversy is over whether countries, developed and developing, should receive credit for offsets. Brazil and other developing countries want developed countries to pay them, as they claim they are slowing their own development by growing new forests or slowing the conversion of existing forest to agricultural uses.
    • there is not even agreement over which countries are still developing. During Kyoto Protocol, China was still classified as developing, exempt from taking action at its own expense. After growing its GDP at nearly a 10 percent annual rate for the last three decades, and becoming the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter in the process, is it still a developing country?
  • how to develop a mechanism that can overcome externalities and public goods problems – Public good nature – any global agreement to reduce emissions will benefit everyone, whether or not an individual has borne the expense of reducing emissions. But the benefits are non-rival and non-exclusive.

Anu Rai

I am an aspiring environmental researcher.

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