CMP, UNFCCC, CO2, GHG… When it comes to climate change, there are more shorthand descriptions than we can keep up with. But, the one we’re here to explain is possibly the most important acronym of 2015 — COP... or "Conference of the Parties".
What Is a COP?!
Let’s get the dry stuff out of the way: a Conference of the Parties is the governing body of an international conference. Whether the conference’s aim is to control tobacco used or chemical weapons, the COP refers to all of the parties involved, and to the decision-making process of reviewing and putting the rules of the conference into effect. This year, France will host the 21st United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change COP (aka COP 21) — with the goal of making broad and lasting decisions on how to solve climate change.
How Does the COP Limit Emissions?
Honestly it’s complicated! At its core, the COP’s track record of making emissions limitations “legally binding” has been pretty cloudy (as is the true nature of that term when you’re talking about nearly 200 different countries!)
Realistically you might want a lawyer to help you parse the nuances of how past COP agreements were enforced. For example, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (the first major COP decision to reduce CO2 emissions), which saw some countries dropping out of the agreement and others ignoring their emissions limitations altogether… with no knock-on repercussions!
Considering all of this it is not surprising that environmentalists have since been calling for a much stronger enforcement of targets.
Why Is It So Complicated?
Right from the start, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) principles called for action on climate change that reflected “common but differentiated responsibilities” from the parties involved. In plain terms, this refers to the difference in historical emissions between developed countries, like the (insert your country’s name), and developing nations, like Zimbabwe. By the time the UNFCCC set out its principles, highly industrialised countries had been emitting carbon dioxide for around a century and a half — by historical comparison, countries just starting to grow their economies accounted for a much smaller proportion of the carbon pollution causing climate change.
If you look at the extremely complex analysis of which country accounts for what percent of carbon emissions, the talks around "which countries should limit what amount of emissions" (and how many resources should be available to the developing nations to adapt to climate change problems caused by developed countries) were of course fraught.
Has There Been Any Progress?
The short answer is yes!... but it has taken almost 20 years. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries were allowed to continue emitting and growing their economies, with the burden of reducing emissions on the more developing countries. With a fast growing Chinese economy beginning to emerge as the biggest source of carbon pollution in the world, it was clear another framework was needed.
A new tact was set forth in 2007 in Bali and in 2009 in Copenhagen — for the first time, all the parties involved agreed to limiting emissions — with the shared globe’s largest economies uniting with a share goal. What didn’t get decided upon, and is still being negotiated, is just how the parties will effect the emissions limitations that were agreed upon in 2009.
What Will COP 21 Decide On?
The science on climate change is clear. Every year we experience rising temperatures, and more and more studies warn of the public health and economic impacts of climate change. Many of the COP countries have already submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC’s — the acronyms just keep coming!) outlining their emissions reductions. By the Paris conference, all the countries will need to make clear how much they will cut emissions by, and negotiators will embark on creating what we all hope will be a clear plan to reach those goals — including a system for providing finance to developing countries, who are struggling to reach these goals whilst adapting to unpredictable climate-changed weather.
What Can We Do To Influence The COP?
No matter what, we should continue to put pressure on world leaders to commit to 100% renewable energy by 2050 — and you can do just that by signing the Avaaz petition below!