Published first time in November 2015 – Updated November 2019

It is obligatory to begin our traditional “Brief History of the COP” with the news of the transfer of the headquarters of the COP25 from Chile to Spain, (December 2-13) due to the situation of political instability that occurred in the southern country during October. It is the first time since the COP was created, a quarter of a century ago, that an edition of it has to change its headquarters. The most important thing is that when this was decided, there were barely 30 days left to complete the complex move, which took Chile ten months to prepare. At the end of this review you will find more details about this situation.

Now let’s get into the matter.

The 2019-2020 biennium will have a special meaning, due to the three emblematic dates that will be celebrated in this period: the 25th anniversaries of the entry into force of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) (March 1994).The delivery No. 25 of the COP, and the entry into force of the Paris Agreement (2020).

From now on, the great test begins for promises and agreements reached. We will know if it continues to advance or become a worthless paper, which, at this stage of the game, would be very serious because it would result in a red alert for humanity and for Mother Earth, who is losing patience with so many delays, denials and indifference of us sapiens.

First, by 2020 we will know if the first 100 billion dollars of the Green Climate Fund, created to finance projects, programs, policies and other climate change prevention activities, can be completed to support developing countries. If it is achieved, it will be the starting signal, the sign of good omens. Or perhaps we see new excuses for not taking on the commitments made, as so many times has happened.

When you read this Brief History, you will realize what we say and can make a list of good purposes, ideas, promises, protocols and agreements that have been left on the way. You will see that in many crucial meetings, where everything seemed to go from strength to strength, on the last night they fell with their feet what for two weeks they had built with their hands.

While it is true that the world in this quarter of a century has improved its vision on issues such as global warming, climate change, wind power, solar energy, green cities and electric cars, it is also that there is still much to be done.

The biggest problems are of an economic nature, since the new solutions touch large interests that resist change and make efforts to deny emergencies and intend to maintain the status as it is. Not only do we talk about big corporations, but also about countries, those that have huge fossil fuels or surfaces with huge forests full of trees, that look like business and are not willing to put a lock on them. But countries that do not have enough resources to undertake the necessary changes also resist.

For all these things, doubts and criticisms of the COP conferences, the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement itself begin to intensify. Among the toughest we have seen is that of Climate Change News, in an article entitled: “After 25 years of failure, we should abandon the UNFCCC”. We quote some lines of this article:

“The UNFCCC was adopted with the objective of “stabilizing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.” In the last 25 years, concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs), far from stabilizing, have reached record levels. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main GHG, increased from 358 parts per million (ppm) in 1994 to 412 ppm in 2018. The last presence of 400 ppm of CO2 on Earth was approximately 3 million years ago … The UNFCCC has moved from a Kyoto Protocol, legally binding from top to bottom, to a Paris Agreement, voluntary and “self-determined” from the bottom up. Today, there is a question mark about the survival of the weak Paris Agreement … According to the Paris Agreement and its regulation, all countries are now on their own to mitigate, adapt and pay the costs of climate impacts. The UNFCCC now is simply a platform to collect, synthesize and disseminate information. It does not have the tools to promote global collective action to combat climate change. “

From the bottom of our hearts, we hope that finally the reason deprives and imposes a true spirit of fight against climate change and its consequences. Let us dedicate ourselves to save the wonderful biodiversity that our beloved planet Earth has welcomed so kindly in its bosom.

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 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 between 6 and 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 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 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 committed 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, that want to “distort” an article of the Paris Agreement, called “Dialogue of Talanoa”, in that the countries commit themselves to revise 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. In Bonn we worked on the small letters and the conference produced a lot of small letters. But we still have not 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.”

COP24, 2018, Katowice, Poland

Between December 3 and 14, 2018, in the city of Katowice, Poland, COP24 was held under the slogan “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 seen. Perhaps the place and date chosen contributed to the lack of media coverage and the lack of interest on the part of the public during the event, which only rebounded, in part, after the summit was over.

The controversy in Katowice this time was not about the Paris Agreement directly, but about the IPCC document, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which presented its Fifth IPCC Report in October this year, whose main objective is to limit the rise in temperatures to 1.5 degrees centigrade from its pre-industrial level.

This goal, according to the report, “will require unprecedented changes” at a social and global level, due to the seriousness of the situation on the planet, due to the sustained increase in global 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 him meant accepting it. President Trump was blunt in saying he did not agree with the IPCC report. The representative of Saudi Arabia went further and dared to say, behind the scenes, that “the Paris Agreement has died”.

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

However, the statement acknowledges: “Unfortunately, in the end, the differences have not been overcome.” Worrying corollary with only two years until the entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

For more details see: Summary and conclusions of the COP24, Katowice 2018

WWF Spain summarized what happened in Poland as follows: “the world leaders arrived in Katowice with the task of responding to the latest climate science data, which has made it very clear that we only have 12 years to reduce emissions by half and avoid catastrophic global warming. Progress has been made, but what we have seen in Poland reveals a lack of fundamental 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.”

Towards COP25, 2019, from Santiago de Chile to Madrid

Chile has made one of the best campaigns, activities and awareness about climate change and its related issues that I have seen in the months before a COP. Their web pages, their videos and their extensive and updated information came out from the beginning of the year, earlier than usual. Their programs inspired and activated many children, teenagers and young people. It is also mandatory to mention the enormous space that the southern country had for the proper development of the event, and the inspiration of architects, designers and other workers created the different areas and their facilities.

As for Spain, we must thank you for your courageous commitment to take the post and offer the replacement of headquarters to perform the COP25, to be held in Madrid, between December 2 and 13, with only 30 days to do so. It is a great responsibility, because normally the preparation of an event like this requires about 10 to 12 months. Chile and Spain will work together to bring to fruition the important climate conference. The chosen place is the IFEMA fairgrounds, a large and well-prepared space, adjacent to Barajas Airport, accustomed to organizing large-scale varied events.

Objectives of COP25

COP25 is the prelude to the Paris Agreement, which will enter into force in 2020. Its main objective is to review the ambition of countries and adjust them to the levels of ambition required in the Paris Agreement, as well as finalize the guidelines to make the agreement fully operational.

The main topics will be focused on the Oceans and Antarctica, discussed this year at the IPCC meeting in Monaco. The report highlights the need to “act urgently in order to prioritize timely, ambitious and coordinated initiatives to address lasting changes in the oceans and the cryosphere that are unprecedented.”

Other issues to be discussed at COP25: renewable energy, circular economy, ecosystems, biodiversity and electromobility.

Sandor Alejandro Gerendas-Kiss