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, and the "COP" refers to all the parties involved, and to the decision-making process of reviewing and putting the rules of the conference into effect. This week, France is hosting the 21st United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change COP, aka COP21. With their goal of making broad and lasting decisions on how to solve climate change, this could be the most significant COP yet!
How Does The COP Limit Emissions?
Previous COP's track record of making emissions limitations "legally binding" has been pretty murky (as it the true nature of "legally binding" 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 1998 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 resulting repercussions!
Considering all of this, it is not surpising that across the entire history of the COP, environmentalists have been campaigning for a much stronger enforcement of targets... and the 21st time is no different, making this a sticky point we're watching closely in Paris.
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, highly industrialised countries like the US had been emitting carbon dioxide for around a century and a half — by comparison, countries just starting to grow their economies accounted for a much smaller proportion of the carbon pollution causing climate change.
However, 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 developing nations to adapt to climate change problems caused by developed countries — were of course fraught. This time in Paris, activists from around the world are hoping that support for adaption will be explicitly written into the agreement.
Has There Been Any Progress?
The short answer is yes, but it's taken almost 20 years. Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries were allowed to continue emitting and growing their economies, with the burder 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, for the first time, in 2009 in Copenhagen all parties involved agreed to limiting emissions — with the globe's largest economies uniting with a shared 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, but the picture is still no clearer. Current INDC's will only keep the warming from boiling over for another 5-10 years, meaning we may have to start the whole process over again soon!
We have a little wish list for what we hope COP21 will resolve, and the niggling issue of making sure we keep ramping up emissions reductions comes in number one. We're also looking for a financing mechanism for the $10 billion-a-year support that's been pledged to support developing countries struggling to reach their own emissions goals whilst adapting to volatile 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!