What are COPs for? A brief history of climate negotiation


Each year the COP (or Conference of the Parties) on climate brings together delegates from all over the world for two weeks. For state representatives, it is an opportunity to negotiate climate agreements, as Kyoto Protocol (1997) or theParis agreement (2015). Multiple parallel events bring together experts, representatives of civil society and actors from the economic world. Outside the official enclosure, activists pound the streets, with their signs denouncing the inertia of leaders in the face of the climate emergency.

Highly publicized, the COPs attract more and more people : nearly 10 people in 000 in Kyoto to develop the protocol of the same name, more than 1997 in Paris in 30. The 000 mark has been crossed in Glasgow in 2021.

What are these annual high masses for? To better understand, let’s take a little step back.

At the origins of climate diplomacy

If the link between CO emissions2 and global warming has been established in 1896 by Nobel Prize winner Svante Arrhenius, the issue was then ignored by politicians for almost a century. The creation in 1988 of IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will completely change the situation.

Le first IPCC assessment report appeared in 1990. It presents the first climate scenarios which anticipate, if nothing is done to control greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, global warming of 4 to 5°C by 2100. It recommends , based on what was done a few years ago to protect the ozone layer, the adoption of a “framework convention” and “additional protocols” to coordinate the action of States.

Two years after the publication of the report, the "Top of the earth", a ten-yearly United Nations conference on the environment. This historic summit leads to the adoption of three international conventions on biodiversity, desertification and climate.

The Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Michos Tzovaras/UN, CC BY-NC-ND

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the founding international treaty of climate negotiation. It sets an ultimate objective: stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of GHGs at a level limiting “dangerous anthropogenic disturbances of the climate system”. The Convention, however, leaves it to future implementing texts to specify this level.

It introduces the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility" in the face of global warming. By ratifying the Convention, each party acknowledges bearing a share of the responsibility which must be differentiated according to the degree of development. The Convention lists in the appendix the developed countries (Western countries and Japan) which bear the heaviest responsibility .

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The Climate Convention does not simply set out general principles. It also sets up governance, with a secretariat, technical bodies based in Bonn in Germany, and a supreme body: the Conference of the Parties (COP) which must meet at least once a year. In the COPs, each country, regardless of its size or economic power, has one vote and decisions are made by consensus.

Two years after the Rio conference, the Climate Convention was ratified by a sufficient number of countries to enter into force in March 1994. The first COP will be convened in Berlin in December. Climate negotiations are launched.

The COP era, from Berlin to the Paris agreement

Angela Merkel, then Minister of the Environment of Germany, at COP1 in Berlin, 1994. UNFCC/X, CC BY-NC-ND

It was a young environment minister, unknown to the public, who chaired the first COP: a certain Angela Merkel, who took her first diplomatic steps there. Its task is quite simple: COP1 gives a two-year mandate to a group of negotiators to supplement the 1992 Convention with an implementing text.

In December 1997, it was done: COP3 adopted the Kyoto Protocol, the first implementing text of the 1992 Convention. This protocol introduced binding commitments for developed countries and the countries of the former Soviet bloc, which must reduce their GHG emissions by 5% between 1990 and 2008-2012.

To facilitate the achievement of this objective, flexibility mechanisms based on exchanges of quotas or carbon credits are introduced, under pressure from American negotiators who see it as a way to alleviate the constraint weighing on the United States.

The negotiations then seem to be off to a good start. But to enter into force, the Kyoto Protocol must be ratified by a sufficient number of countries representing a certain volume of emissions…

When States pass the buck

In March 2001, President Bush, newly elected to the White House, announced that the United States would not ratify a protocol which was not binding on China and other emerging countries. And that’s when climate diplomacy gets complicated.

Because without the signature of the United States, we must have that of Russia to reach the quorum allowing Kyoto to come into force. This gives great negotiating power to President Putin who will not hesitate to use it. The Duma eventually ratified the protocol in November 2004 and the Kyoto Protocol comes into force at the beginning of 2005.

But without the participation of the United States and with the acceleration of emissions from China and other emerging Asian countries, it now covers less than a third of global GHG emissions. We must therefore find ways to expand climate agreements.

From 2005 to 2009, the European Union therefore recommended extending the Kyoto protocol to emerging countries after 2012, which would allow a return of the United States. This attempt failed in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen.

At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. ONE Photo / Mark Garten, CC BY-NC-ND

The large emerging countries do not want a super-Kyoto, but are making a counter-proposal: a universal agreement where each country would freely deposit its contribution with a commitment to financial transfer from rich countries. President Obama supports this plan with a promise to transfer 100 billion dollars per year from rich countries to poor countries.

In 2010, we reconnected the threads of the negotiation at the COP in Cancún on these new bases. The following year, COP17 in Durban gave a new mandate to a group of negotiators, this time for four years, to reach a universal agreement no later than 2015 at COP21.

Great uncertainty then weighs on the possibility of reaching such a universal agreement. So much so that there are not many applications to host COP21. France is a candidate. Under the leadership of Laurent Fabius, the Quai d'Orsay network is mobilized. Its action is facilitated by the commitment of Presidents Obama and Xi Jinping who spoke out twice before the conference in favor of such an agreement.

The first steps of the Paris agreement

New implementing text of the 1992 convention, the Paris agreement was adopted on December 12, 2015. Its legal form is not a protocol, but an annex to the COP21 decision, which will facilitate its ratification, in particular by the United States. As evidenced by the number of heads of state in the family photo, it is a great diplomatic success.

More than 150 heads of state and government participated in COP21 in Paris. Agency Brasil/Wikicommons, CC BY-NC-ND

In terms of climate, the agreement first specifies the long-term objectives: limiting global warming to well below 2°C by aiming for 1,5°C. To achieve this, Article 4 specifies that peak emissions must be reached quickly to aim for climate neutrality, in accordance with the scenarios. of the 5th assessment report of the IPCC, published ahead of the conference.

The objectives for reducing GHG emissions are broken down into "nationally determined contributions" (NDC), which countries place on a United Nations register and must revise upwards at least once every five years, in the light of 'an overall assessment.

As part of the differentiation of responsibility, climate financing will have to be increased, the 100 billion dollars per year from 2020 being considered as a minimum base likely to be significantly increased.

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement comes into force very quickly, on November 4, 2016. Less than a year after COP21, but… a few days before the American presidential election. Newly elected, Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement in March 2017. Could history be repeating itself?

Not entirely, because it is more difficult to exit the Paris agreement than the Kyoto protocol. It's necessary four years for this withdrawal to be recorded : time to elect a new president! One of Joe Biden's first decisions at the White House was to sign an executive order bringing the United States back into the UN house.

Because the Trumpian episode did not derail the Paris agreement. At COP26 in Glasgow, delayed by a year due to Covid-19, almost all countries, including the United States, had deposited in the United Nations register their contribution to the Paris agreement.

The rest of the story is to be written

At COP28 in Dubai, negotiators will examine the very first global assessment of the Paris agreement, prepared by the Bonn secretariat. It is on this basis that negotiations will begin before the submission of the next set of national contributions for the next five-year period starting in 2025.

Le technical report what the delegations will find is unequivocal. If all countries implement their national contributions well, global emissions will stop growing from 2025 – or even decrease by around 10% between 2019 and 2030 in the best case (red area on the graph). This is far from enough to meet the IPCC emission trajectories limiting global warming to below 2°C.

Furthermore, in terms of climate financing, the assessment established by the OECD is unequivocal. Of the 100 billion promised long ago by rich countries, 10 are still missing in 2021.

To make up for lost time, it will therefore be necessary to significantly increase the ambition of the NDCs by 2025 and above all to ensure the conditions for their implementation. This means mobilizing more pro-climate investments and directing a larger share of these investments to less developed countries. At the same time, we must dry up those directed towards fossil fuels and at the same time strengthen actions in favor of forests and is a research facility in agroecology, .

Mission impossible in the current context of deterioration in international relations? Two years before COP21, few observers were betting on the adoption of a universal agreement like that of Paris, and yet. Can COP28 bring some good surprises? Response mid-December in Dubai.

Christian from Perthuis, Professor of economics, founder of the “Climate Economics” chair, Paris Dauphine University - PSL

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock / M. Abuaasy

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