Perhs, you heard the rumble Paris Agreement or countries that are about to join forces under the banner of the United Nations to talk about climate change. In the midst of the vortex of daily life, it’s really hard to remember. Don’t worry, you are not alone.
Even people who have spent a lot of time thinking and acting about climate change often have no idea about it United Nations climate process– which, unfortunately, is both one of the most important and confusing things on the planet. World leaders and hordes of negotiators are preparing for what is known as COP26, which is less than a month away. It’s probably that the best shot in the world finally begin to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with burning fossil fuels. Here’s your introduction to understanding what the hell this COP26 thing is, what on earth the UNFCCC is, and why you should care about what you do. Welcome to COP101!
What is COP26?
COP is a acronym for „Conference of the Parties”. In UNspeak, a COP is analogous to a session of Congress or any other legislative body, except that they just talk about climate change all the time. (Imagine if Congress were like this!) In Klimaland, COPs meet to deal with matters related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, which is the big UN treaty that says that countries have to come together to figure out how to stop this whole global warming thing.
Once a year, representatives of all contracting states meet in the same room to develop international climate protection measures and policies in connection with the UNFCCC. COP26 is the specific name of this year’s big climate meeting, which is to take place in the autumn of this year.
So does the „26” mean there were 25 other cops?
Yes. The UNFCCC was created in 1992when 154 countries signed a new treaty on climate change. This contract came into force in 1994. The first COP took place in Berlin in 1995, and the COPs have met almost every year since then. (The math is a little off because last year’s COP was postponed because of the pandemic.)
Gosh, that’s a lot of meetings. Why haven’t we addressed climate change yet?
Not only is the scale of the problem quite big (duh), but the UN process is, let’s be charitable and let’s say, quite confused. Most COPs are filled with long discussions about tiny technical details related to various UN rules and parameters. Some COPs are basically mainly devoted to clarifying technical details of certain agreements.
In between all of this procedure, you have a few quite great Questions that need to be answered are how (and whether) to get bigger countries for theirs fair share of global CO2 emissions; how much financial aid should smaller countries receive; and what the world can realistically achieve compared to what science says we must do. When you have nearly 200 countries, each with their own interests, crying out for input on topics big and small, you have a recipe for hard-to-reach consensus and many meetings. Civil society and even fossil fuel companies also appear to try to influence the conversations and add another layer. (Unfortunately the leaders seem listen to the latter more than before.)
If it’s COP26, why do I keep hearing from Glasgow?
Glasgow is where this year’s COP takes place, since the Great Britain hosts COP. Every year the “presidency” of a COP changes – the country that runs the show and basically makes sure that everyone gets along and that things get done – and the meeting usually takes place in a city within that country. However, the most recent COPs took place in countries other than the host country. Chile held the presidency of COP25 but postponed the conference due to Protests against growing inequality. (Chile was just the host because Brazil has withdrawn after Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency.)
But usually the name of the city where the talks are taking place is synonymous with that particular COP. In 2015, France hosted COP15, which gave us the name of the Paris Agreement.
I know the Paris Agreement is important, but can you explain it to me again?
At the Paris COP, 192 countries came to an agreement to separate the world from fossil fuels and try to avoid additional warming of no more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. The agreement sets the ambitious goal of avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius [2.7 degrees Fahrenheit] the warming also thanks to the advocacy of small island states. As part of the Paris Agreement, the countries have agreed to submit their own plans that describe in detail how much they want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This type of agreement may sound very simple, but it was a big deal for the UN process. In 2009 the countries hoped for a similar agreement, but instead negotiations ended dramatically on the last day of the conference at a total of diplomatic meltdown. To agree to this stuff is hard!
If the world signed the Paris Agreement in 2015, shouldn’t we have finished these meetings?
Paris should never be the last word on how the world would deal with climate change. Think of it as a starter blueprint. The agreement is based on countries that submit increasingly aggressive plans to reduce emissions every few years. We have also seen in the years in between how fragile the agreement is. The Paris Agreement is a comparatively simple agreement some about increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
But it’s also non-binding, which is why former President Donald Trump had the opportunity pull out the US without penalties or penalties. That’s why President Joe Biden just take part again and make a new commitment as if nothing happened.
OK, what will happen at COP26?
Each of the 192 countries that have acceded to the Paris Agreement will send a cohort of delegates to represent them in the negotiations. It is a lot of the people: There are around 20,000 delegates registered to participate. 120 heads of state are expected again this year. These people will be in meetings for much of the two weeks.
The actual negotiations are closed to the public, but there are a lot going on activity this is also possible outside of the meetings. Thousands of viewers from so-called „observer organizations” – NGOs, Youth organizations, Corporations, political groups – come to the COP to cheer the delegates and the process, to incite them in one way or another, and usually to get as far as possible on the fringes of the negotiations.
Many of these groups hold demonstrations, discussions and Other events– many, including celebrities and world leaders, who get a lot of attention in the news and, to some extent, can provide information about what is going on in discussions. Countries can also host their own events, some of which can tell a great deal about those countries’ priorities in the negotiations. (At COP24, the Trump administration put one pitifully sad panel devoted entirely to the defense of coal.)
Is COP26 particularly important?
There are a couple of key benchmarks in the Paris Agreement that will be included in this year’s negotiations, so this COP will not just be about technical details – we will certainly see some downsizing and fighting over big issues.
Perhs, it is just as important that there has been a lot of science and research since our last COP that illustrates the urgency of acting as quickly as possible on the climate. The International Energy Agency said earlier this year that all new fossil fuel explorations must cease entirely by 2022 to keep us below 1.5 degrees Celsius (F). And in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, another United Nations body, released a report detailing how much the planet has changed – and how serious things will be if we don’t act now. Suffice it to say that the global atmosphere surrounding climate change has probably not been as intense at any other COP.
Will anything change after COP26? Are we going to fix climate change?
Not to exaggerate, however, there is a lot to do on this particular cop. If the UN can buck the trend of ending every meeting with controversial Non-agreements and at a rare moment of unity come together, we will have a strong framework to work with to figure out how to cut emissions over the next few years. If business goes as usual, well … keep your fingers crossed.