©Published first time in November 2015 – Updated September 2020

It is almost impossible to start updating our traditional Short History of the COPs with something other than the pandemic that took everyone by surprise. The aggressive coronavirus, with its severe COVID-19 disease, without knocking on the door, broke into our homes just beginning this new decade of the 20s.

There is no country or person whose plans have not been disrupted by the virus this year. Families, for the first time in peacetime, have seen their children have to stay home without being able to physically attend their schools and universities. Men and women have been prevented from getting to their jobs or from opening their small businesses. But the greatest tragedy touched those who lost loved ones or suffered for weeks the extreme treatments in hospitals, with tubing and induced coma to withstand the nightmare.

Finally, we want to extend our words of appreciation to doctors, nurses and everyone who cares for the sick in ambulances, clinics, and hospitals. There are many heroes who have given their lives to save their patients, proving that the Hippocratic Oath is still more valid than ever.

COP26 in COVID19 environment

When it was said that COP25 had been the most atypical climate conference, no one imagined that COP26 would surpass it by long, since it cannot be held this year due to the pandemic. It is something never seen in the history of COPs. What we do not understand is the haste with which this decision was made, and even less why it was postponed as far back as November 2021.

Nor do we understand why COP26 could not be held via teleconferencing like other activities, such as education, business, or entertainment. A 24-month interval between the two COPs is too much time and only rejoices the eternal procrastinators.

The COP25 ended without agreements, like so many other COPs, this time on fundamental issues such as ambition, carbon markets and the use of land and oceans, by the same actors as always. Russia, China, the United States, India and Saudi Arabia, and some other Persian Gulf countries, continue to refuse to cut their fossil fuel production and insist on continuing to emit greenhouse gases.

These discussions were postponed due to a lack of agreement and remained pending for COP26. The weak results of the conference were harshly criticized by WWF Spain, Greenpeace, and the newspaper El País. Their opinions and other information can be read below, in the COP25 section.

Climate change does not wait, and the planet is impatient

Worst of all, activities in the opposite direction to the Paris Agreement have not stopped for a single day during the pandemic. The extraction of fossil fuels has not stopped despite the drastic decrease in automobile traffic and airplane flights, a product of forced confinement.

The deforestation of the forests has not stopped either, in the case of the Brazilian Amazon it has increased, as we read in the news. For example, CNN headlined: Deforestation in the Amazon is accelerating despite the coronavirus, and then reported: “Deforestation in the Brazilian rainforest “increased by almost 64% in April this year, compared to the same last year, according to data from the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) of Brazil…”

We cannot continue facing our Mother Earth because we are going to lose out. COVID-19 showed us that we are not as infallible as we thought. Killing trees is not for intelligent beings. What should we do? At SGK-PLANET we have been making a great effort to combat deforestation for a long time and we will continue to work with greater intensity in this regard.

Let us move on to this Brief History of COPs

While it is true that the world in this quarter century has improved its vision on issues such as global warming, climate change, wind energy, solar energy, green cities and electric cars, there is still much to do. The biggest problems are of an economic nature, since the new solutions touch great interests that resist change and make efforts to deny the urgencies and try to keep the system as it is. We are not only talking about large corporations, but also about countries, those that have huge inventories of fossil fuels under their soils and waters or surfaces with formidable forests full of trees, which they see as business and are not willing to put a lock on them. But countries that do not have sufficient resources to undertake the necessary changes also resist.

When you read this Brief History, you will realize what we say and you will be able to make a list of good intentions, ideas, promises, protocols and agreements that have fallen by the wayside. You will see that in many crucial meetings, where everything seemed to be going from strength to strength, on the last night they tear down with their feet what had been built with their hands for two weeks.

The Climate Change Conferences, a long history of disagreements and postponements

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), established in May 1992 at the Second Earth Summit, 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 COPs 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 Climate Change.

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.

COP23, 2017 Fiji-Bonn

The twenty-third Conference of the Parties on Climate Change was held in Bonn from 6 to 17 November 2017. The German city provided the space, infrastructure, and part of the organization necessary to carry out the event. Fiji, a tiny island country in Polynesia whose low elevation makes it highly vulnerable to the foreseeable effects of climate change, chaired the conference. For this reason, its prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, assumed the presidency of COP23 determined to maintain the momentum of the Paris Agreement.

The United States appeared at 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 evidenced a more active role compared to previous conferences. At the meeting, it was learned that more than twenty countries created a global alliance by means of which they committed to eliminate coal from electricity generation before 2030. However, the signatory countries do not include Germany, Spain, and Poland, nor the three largest coal consumers, China, India, and the US.

Everything proceeded normally until the last night a situation arose that paralyzed the meeting, which lasted until the early hours of the morning. Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action, told EFE that “nations that have not raised objections in the entire process prior to and during this climate summit, are putting them at this time with the hope of achieving results for their countries”.

COP24, 2018, Katowice, Poland

Between December 3 and 14, 2018, in the city of Katowice, Poland, the COP24 was held, under the motto “Let’s change together”. This was the third time that Poland served as the stage for these important conferences. The 24th Conference of the Parties was one of the most secretive and least newsworthy meetings we have ever seen. Perhaps the chosen place and date contributed to the limited media coverage and the lack of interest from the public during the event, which only partially rebounded after the summit.

The controversy that occurred in Katowice this time was not about the Paris Agreement directly, but about the document of the IPCC, Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Climate Change, which presented its Fifth Assessment Report in October of this year, whose main objective is to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius from its pre-industrial level. This goal, according to said report, “will require unprecedented changes” at a social and global level, due to the gravity of the planet’s situation, due to the sustained increase in world temperature, and all its foreseeable consequences.

An oil quartet made up of the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait did not welcome the report. The United States argued that welcoming its meant accepting him. President Trump was blunt in expressing that he did not agree with the IPCC report, nor did he believe in its content. The representative of Saudi Arabia went further and dared to say, behind the scenes, that “the Paris Agreement is dead.”

Finally, in the UN statement we can read: “Governments have adopted a robust set of guidelines to apply the historic Paris Agreement on climate change approved in 2015. The implementation of the agreement will benefit everyone, but especially the most vulnerable.”

However, the statement acknowledges: “Unfortunately, in the end, the differences have not been overcome.” A worrying corollary when the Paris Agreement is barely two years away.

WWF Spain summarized what happened in Poland as follows: “World leaders came to Katowice with the task of responding to the latest data from climate science, which has made it very clear that we only have 12 years to cut emissions in half and avoid a catastrophic global warming. Progress has been made, but what we have seen in Poland reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the current climate urgency on the part of some countries. Everyone’s future is at stake. We need all countries to commit to increasing climate ambition by 2020.”

COP25 Chile-Madrid 2019

COP25 was held in the city of Madrid, Spain, between December 2 and 15, with the motto “Chile-Madrid Time to Act”. The climate summit began in an unprecedented way, since Chile had to cancel the event at the last moment, due to the situation of political instability that occurred since October. When everything indicated that it was impossible to meet the scheduled date, Madrid managed to organize the conference in record time, thanks to the timely intervention of the IFEMA group of companies and save its completion on the scheduled date.

The twenty-fifth conference of the parties was attended by 25,000 people and the participation of 196 countries. The big absentees were Xi Jinping from China, Angela Merkel from Germany, Vladimir Putin from Russia, Donald Trump from the United States, Emmanuel Macron from France, Jair Bolsonaro from Brazil, and Sebastián Piñera from Chile. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives was present with a delegation of deputies and senators from her country. “By coming to the COP, we want to say that we are still here,” said the politician.

The three most controversial topics of COP25

  1. The chapter of ambition. The problem is that the ambition of these countries and entities is not accompanied by the ambition of the main emitting countries (Russia, China, the United States, India and Saudi Arabia and others from the Persian Gulf), which refuse to reduce their production of fossil fuels and are determined to continue emitting greenhouse gases.

Recommended Reading: FAQs About Climate Ambition

  1. Carbon markets. One of the most controversial topics at COP25 was the carbon markets. These were created long ago to limit and control the amount of CO2 and other GHGs that are emitted into the atmosphere annually. It is a kind of clearinghouse for the sale of emission quotas, which allows those who have been below their quota to sell to another who has exceeded. The goal was to create a regulatory framework for a global carbon trading system, a complex issue included in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It was finally deferred for later.

Recommended reading: FAQs about carbon markets

  1. The use of land and oceans. The text recognizes the importance of the oceans and soils in the climate system. In response to IPCC special reports released during 2019, the Bonn Climate Convention will hold an ocean dialogue and a land use dialogue in a June 2020 session.

COP25 concluded on December 15. That is, with an extension of almost two days, becoming the longest ever in the history of COPs so far. An unprecedented event, just as it was its beginning. The delay was mainly due to the resistance of the same countries as always, the big emitters of greenhouse gases that refuse to increase their climate ambition, as established by the Paris Agreement. The last-minute delay was due to Brazil’s reluctance to accept the document on the topic “Land use and oceans”. Finally, minimum agreements were reached.

Criticism of the results of COP25

WWF Spain has stated that “Increasing ambition in mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation is very good, but they have not made any mention of the plans that countries have to present for next year, 2020, which is how crucial it is the crucial thing that has to occur here”, said the head of Climate Change at WWF Spain, Mar Asunción.

Greenpeace has said: “This disappointing result is a sign that the UNFCCC cannot be the only place where politicians must be held accountable in addressing the climate emergency and reducing emissions to scientifically safe levels.” (Original in English. Our translation).

The newspaper El País headlined on 12-16-2019: The Climate Summit fails in its objective of regulating carbon markets. The article states: “The weak outcome of COP25 widens the gap between governments and science on the climate crisis.”

©2015-2020 Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss