Brief history of the COPs – UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

By Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss
Published November 2015 – Updated February 2018


Logo UN Famework Convention on Climate Change in WEB SGK Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss

It has been 23 years since the first Conference of the Parties on Climate Change. These early years have been full of good intentions, ideas, promises, protocols and agreements, and while it is true that the world in these two decades has improved its vision on issues such as Climate Change, sustainable energy, green cities and electric cars, it is that much remains to be done. The biggest problems are of an economic issue, since the new solutions touch big interests that are resistant to change and make efforts to deny urgencies and try to maintain the system as it is. Not only do we talk about big corporations, but also countries, those who own fossil fuel inventories under their soil and water and do not want to lock them overnight. But countries that do not have the resources to tackle the changes that are needed are also resisted.

Then there are unions and NGOs that have often left a COP with a bitter taste in their mouths, such as COP15, Copenhagen 2009, where the failure of the Kyoto Protocol began, before their eyes a chain of defaults, postponements and dead projects. Finally, there is the indifference of a large part of peoples, who perceive these issues as distant and unfunny. It is not known if it is more difficult to fight against climate change or to fight against general indifference, which is entertained by thousands of signal-transmitters who excite their sensitive worlds to the detriment of the world of ideas, as the Athenian philosophers warned more than two and a half millennia ago.

Let’s move on to the history of the COP.

The Conferences on Climate Change, a long history of postponements

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in May 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro; came into force in March 1994 with the premise of strengthening global public awareness of climate change issues. Among its main objectives is the stabilization of concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere to prevent risks in the climate system. The Conference of the Parties (COP) is established as the supreme body of the Convention and the association of all the countries that form part of it. The annual meetings are attended by environmental experts, ministers, heads of state and non-governmental organizations.

1995, COP1, Berlin: The first COP Conference

From it came the Berlin Mandate, a sort of catalog of commitments that was quite indefinite, allowing countries to choose initiatives tailored to their needs.

1996, COP2, Geneva

The need to establish “binding quantitative targets” on the limitation of GHG emissions by industrialized countries, with precise reductions for 2005, 2010 and 2020, was agreed by consensus and should be addressed in Kyoto next year in Japan.

1997, COP3, Kyoto: The Kyoto Protocol is born with date of death incorporated

COP3 met in the Japanese city, where intense negotiations saw the light on the celebrated Kyoto Protocol, which until then, together with the Montreal Protocol (1987, protection of the ozone layer), was one of the two most important and hopeful documents of humanity to regulate anthropogenic activities, capable of recovering the global environment. In Kyoto, binding targets for GHG emissions for 37 industrialized countries were set, but two of the largest emitters, the United States and China, did not ratify the document. It was agreed that the Kyoto Protocol would enter into force eleven years later in 2008 and its expiration date was set for 2012, stating that developed countries should reduce their GHG emissions by 5% over those five years 1990.

1998 – 2006: Nine POPs with little progress to be made

Between these dates were held nine Conferences of the Parties:

1998, COP4 Buenos Aires. / 1999, COP5, Bonn. / 2000, COP6, The Hague and (2nd part), Bonn. / 2001, COP7, Marrakech. / 2002, COP8, New Delhi. / 2003 COP9, Milan. / 2004. COP10, Buenos Aires. / 2005. COP11, Montreal. / 2006, COP12, Nairobi. It was nine years almost lost, mainly employed in finalizing the details of the Kyoto Protocol, with a view to 2008.

2007, COP 13, Bali: The road to substitution for the Kyoto Protocol

During the conference in Indonesia, an important step was taken towards replacing the Kyoto Protocol, without being activated by a new treaty. In addition, it was concluded that the signs of global warming are unquestionable and finally the “Bali Action Plan” was established, which established the framework of negotiations leading to COP 15, Copenhagen, two years later.

2008, COP14, Poznán: The look towards Copenhagen

In this city of Poland, the program of transfer of rational ecological technologies for developing countries was positively received and the details for the important event of the following year were refined.

2009, COP15, Copenhagen: Great hope ends in great disappointment

Finally, we arrived at the long-awaited COP 15, meeting in which there was an immense hope. It was thought that the Danish capital would be given the privilege of giving good news to the world by announcing a new protocol for the reduction of GHG emissions: “the conclusion of a legally binding climate agreement, valid for the whole world, which will be implemented as of 2012, “as its central objective stated before the meeting. This, in quantifiable terms, meant reducing CO2 emissions to less than 50% by 2050 compared to 1990. But the euphoria was short lived. Three weeks before the beginning of COP15, a meeting was held in Thailand, where China and the United States decided that the Copenhagen agreements would not be binding, so that the fate of the Summit was set before it began. It was very bad news and the few hopes of saving her were buried last night, when the presidents of China, the United States, India, Brazil and South Africa, without the presence of the European representatives, nor the other countries, held a meeting behind closed doors and in only three pages drafted a non-binding agreement that was not even put to the vote. Finally, it was only exposed to the “awareness” of the attendees, along with the promise that, in early 2010, work would be done on a political platform, the basis for building binding legal commitments at COP 16. The summit as it was to be expected, was described as failure and disaster by many governments and environmental organizations. Herman Van Rumpuy, President of the European Council, on a confidential US diplomatic cable, leaked by WikiLeaks, dated 4 January 2010, had very harsh words: “Copenhagen was an incredible disaster … multilateral summits will not work”, and called the meeting “Nightmare on Elm Street II” and he uttered the lapidary phrase: “who wants to see that horror movie again?”

2010, COP 16, Cancun: Creation of the Green Climate Fund, an indispensable tool

Among the main agreements reached in Mexico are the creation of the Green Climate Fund, which establishes an amount of one hundred thousand million dollars each year, starting in 2020, and thirty thousand million dollars for the period 2010- 2012, in order to help low-income countries, cover the costs of combating climate change. The final document states that a commitment decision for a second phase of the Kyoto Protocol should be adopted “as soon as possible” to ensure “that there is no gap between the first and second commitment periods”.

2011, COP17 Durban: The birth of the Kyoto-II Protocol and the beginning of his death

The luck of the planet was no better than in South Africa the previous year, although progress was made by setting a date for the start of the second period of the Kyoto agreements with a view to 2013, which presumed to avoid a gap in Change Climate. The summit concluded with a road map for a global treaty, as required by the European Union, which would commit large polluters who did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, China, the United States and India, to comply with the treaty. The bad news was that Canada announced its intention not to renew Kyoto, seconded by Japan and Russia.

2012, COP18, Doha: Kyoto extended, but it is no longer possible to revive it

For some time, it had been anticipated that in Qatar there would be no great start because its objectives did not seem complicated, although at last the road was full of obstacles. The 194 countries reached a minimum agreement, the “Doha Climate Gate”, which extends the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, but the negotiations on the need for more donations by developing countries were deferred to the following year. Most delegations expressed their discomfort because the final agreement did not meet the scientific recommendations, which called for strong action to counter global warming. Carbon dioxide emissions for 2012 already doubled in 1990.

2013, COP19, Warsaw: mass abandonment of the summit

The initial objective in Poland was to reach an agreement so that the emissions of gaseous pollutants could be reduced by 2015. However, this agreement was opposed by several countries, including the host, owner of a coal-based industry. It is noteworthy that on this occasion the UN presented a document where it is assured with a certainty of almost 100% that the human being is the main cause of global warming since the 1950s. Finally, a roadmap to a global pact and binding in 2015, but many slots were left open to be resolved at the Lima summit the following year. One highlight was the massive abandonment, one day after the closure of the summit, of NGOs and trade unions, an event unheard of until that moment in the COP.

2014, COP20, Lima: great expectations and preparations for Paris, 2015

In the Peruvian capital, the most significant was that the United States and China announced a joint commitment to reduce GHG emissions for the first time ever, fundamental for global warming not to exceed 2ºC, a limit set by scientists. The UN considered the goal to reduce emissions by 40-70% by 2050 and zero by the end of the century. The agreement, finally ratified, was a covenant that approached postures facing Paris 2015.

2015, COP21, Paris: The Paris Agreement is born

An ambitious global convention to combat climate change, negotiated in the framework of COP 21, Paris 2015. It was adopted by 197 countries and its signature was officially launched on April 22, 2016, Earth Day. Its implementation will start in 2020. The Paris Agreement provides for the limitation of global temperature increase to 2°C by reducing GHG emissions caused by fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, which when burned release carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (CO2). All of this increases the greenhouse effect, causing global warming and climate change, with consequences such as intensification of global temperatures, rising sea levels, floods, landslides, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and other catastrophic phenomena capable of endanger many species that inhabit the Earth, including homo sapiens.

Learn more in the related article: Are the objectives of the Paris Agreement realistic?

2016, COP22, Marrakech

The 22nd edition of the COP was held in the Moroccan capital, characterized by its low profile and poor media coverage, which some have called a “technical meeting”. In this meeting, a working paper was adopted to implement the Paris Agreement as well as a type of roadmap was which would lead to the rules that will guide the essential agreement. COP24, Poland 2018 was established for its conclusion and beginning of its implementation, a kind of bridge towards 2020, when the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

2017, COP23, Fiji-Bonn. Progress towards the objectives of the Paris Agreement

The twenty-third Conference of the Parties on Climate Change was held in Bonn from 6 to 17 November 2017. The German city facilitated the space, infrastructure and part of the organization necessary to carry out the event. Fiji, a tiny island country of the Polynesia, whose low altitude makes it very vulnerable to the foreseeable effects of climate change, chaired the conference. For this reason, his prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, assumed the presidency of the COP23 determined to maintain the momentum of the Paris Agreement. The United States presented itself to the conference with a low-ranking delegation, following president Donald Trump’s decision to abandon the Paris Agreement. The speech of the representative of China showed a more active role with respect to previous conferences. At the meeting it was known that more than twenty countries created a global alliance through which they commit to eliminate coal from power generation before 2030. However, among the signatory countries do not include Germany, Spain and Poland, nor the three largest consumers of coal, China, India and the USA. Everything went smoothly until on the last night there was a situation that paralyzed the meeting, which lasted until the wee hours of the morning. Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action, told EFE that “nations that have not objected to the whole process prior to this climate summit and during it, are putting them in this moment with the hope of achieving results for their countries.” Other sources assured that these States are the so-called “developing countries with the same vision”, such as China, India, Saudi Arabia and Iran, which want to “distort” an article of the Paris Agreement, called “Dialogue of Talanoa”, in that the countries commit themselves to review the ambition of their national climate commitments in 2018. Finally, the controversies were settled. The synthesis of the COP23 was expressed by Michael Schäfer, of the environmental organization WWF: “The climate conference was not a big blow, but it had the expected results, Bonn worked on the fine print and the conference produced a lot of fine print But we have not yet reached the goal by far. ” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, concluded: “With the adoption of the Talanoa Dialogue, the conference has provided a launching pad to move on to the next stage of greater ambition. Progress has also been made in implementing guidelines for the Paris Agreement so that by 2018 it will be possible to really support international cooperation in a sustained manner, and national efforts to achieve a safer, more prosperous and better world for all.”

Towards the COP24, 2018, Katowice, Poland

Between December 3 and 14, 2018, the Polish city of Katowice will hold the COP24, United Nations conference on climate change. It will be the third time that Poland will serve as the stage for these important conferences. Previously it had been Poznań in 2008 for COP14 and Warsaw in 2013 for COP19. In addition, Poland presided over the COP5 that was held in Bonn, Germany, in 1999. The group of Eastern European countries was who chosen this venue for the COP of this year. The meeting will be chaired by Professor Jan Szyszko, Minister of Environment of Poland, who has informed that about 30,000 delegates from around the world will participate in the event, including heads of government and ministers responsible for environmental and climate problems. “The election of Poland as host of the conference is not accidental. We are one of the leaders in global climate policy” said Professor Szyszko.

The conference will be coordinated by Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, who has advanced “2018 will be another important year for international climate diplomacy as the countries are making progress in implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. In fact, in 2018 we hope to achieve a series of key achievements (…). Among those milestones is to finalize the guidelines to make the agreement fully operational, as well as taking stock of the achievements that countries are making collectively to achieve the Paris goals and the level of ambition needed in the years and decades to come. (…) The expansion and better management and conservation of forests will be fundamental to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement. In fact, we are going to need to see progress in all sectors of the economy if we want to take advantage of the full potential of the Paris Agreement in this century.”

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