by Hannah Harrison
The Convention of the Parties (COP) is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be limited to a level so as to not interfere with the Earth’s climate system. It also establishes different responsibilities for countries by breaking them into three key groups. Annex I parties are responsible for returning their emissions to pre-1990 levels. Annex II parties, or ‘developed countries with special financial responsibilities’, are accountable for providing financial resources to developing nations. The final group are developing nations, tasked with providing a carbon emissions and sequestrations inventory to the UN secretariat.
COP-1: Berlin, 1995
In 1995, one year after the UNFCCC entered into force, Berlin hosted COP-1. Delegates congregated to discuss the UNFCCC. Believing it to be too limited, the Berlin Mandate was adopted. The mandate would result in binding emissions targets and timetables being introduced for the first time, but only after a negotiation period of two years had concluded. To aid negotiations, the ad hoc Group on the Berlin Mandate (AGBM) was also established. Despite progression towards binding targets, developing countries were disappointed with the lack of immediate action the mandate presented.
COP-2: Geneva, 1996
Given the agreement that countries would meet yearly, COP-2 was held in Geneva in 1996. The policies within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) second assessment were endorsed by parties, being described as ‘the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the science of climate change’. In light of developing countries’ calls for more rapid action, the Geneva Ministerial Declaration was also established. This called for the creation of a legally-binding protocol to be accelerated. Despite the spirit of haste, the declaration was noted but not adopted.
COP-3: Kyoto, 1997
The 1997 conference ended with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol. It outlined, for developed countries, the first ever binding climate targets, otherwise known as QELROs (Quantified Emission Limitation and Reduction Objectives). QELROs place a maximum limit on Annex I countries emitting the six major GHGs. Two flexibility mechanisms were also outlined. The first of these was a Joint Implementation Project (JI). This allowed Annex I countries to be a part of an emissions reduction programme in another Annex I country as an alternative to reducing domestic emissions. The second mechanism, a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allowed Annex I countries to invest in a developing country’s green infrastructure in place of reducing domestic emissions.
While the JI and CDM schemes were the first of their kind, countries including the USA chose not to ratify the protocol. For the US, this was on the grounds of its disapproval of any international agreement that did not require developing nations to reduce their emissions, of which Kyoto was included. While the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at COP-3, its requirement of 55 signatures meant that it did not enter into force until 2004, 7 years after COP-3, when Russia signed.
COP-4: Buenos Aires, 1998
At COP-4, the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was established so as to promote member state cooperation. The plan aided the transfer of technology and services to developing nations. Negotiations on the technology transfer into developing countries also continued into COP-5. However, deadlines for finalising the outstanding details of the Kyoto Protocol were also established and were to be resolved the following year. Parties also agreed that the finances of the COP would be discussed every four years.
COP-5: Bonn, 1999
Despite COP-5 being a technical meeting, delegates left Bonn with a mandate to negotiate the finer details of the Kyoto Protocol. While these ideas were not new, they were given ‘a boost’ at Bonn according to a press conference held by the US Delegation.
COP-6: The Hague, 2000
Described as a ‘make or break time for the planet’, COP-6 provided an opportunity for disagreements regarding the Flexibility Mechanisms to be resolved. Specifically, what should be described as an acceptable emissions reduction mechanism. Groups such as the EU and Hungary favoured a smaller range of acceptable mechanisms, whereas the Group of 77 (G77)’s approach included, amongst others, nuclear energy investment.
Other outstanding issues involved carbon sinks and whether reforestation should be classed as an acceptable emissions-reduction project. Placing a limit on the amount of emissions reductions met through the mechanisms was also discussed.
In light of these issues, talks at The Hague broke down and were suspended. Many expressed disappointment at suspension of the talks. For others, it pointed to the need for credible, sustainable solutions to the climate emergency. Eight months later at COP-6 part two, parties ruled in favour of widening flexibility mechanisms and placing no limit on emission reductions.
COP-7: Marrakesh, 2001
In 2001, Marrakesh hosted COP-7. After COP-6 part two, the detailed rules regarding Kyoto were adopted and named the Marrakesh Accords. A Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) was also established to finance adaptation and technology transfer projects.
COP-8: New Delhi, 2002
At COP-8 in 2002, the Delhi Ministerial Declaration was adopted, calling for developed countries to transfer technology to developing countries. Russia’s hesitation, in part, characterised COP-8. Like all protocols, Kyoto could only enter into force once it was ratified by 55 countries, including those responsible for 55 per cent of the developed world’s 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. With the United States and Australia not ratifying, Russia was required to meet the ratification criteria and was able to delay the process. It was not until 2004, two years after COP-7 that Russia signed the Kyoto Protocol.
COP-9: Milan, 2003
At COP-9, new emissions reporting guidelines based on IPCC recommendations were adopted. The Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) were further developed.
COP-10: Buenos Aires, 2004
To aid developing countries’ adaptation to climate change, the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted in 2004. 2004 was also marked by Russia, alongside Canada, formally ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Parties also began discussing post-Kyoto mechanisms at COP-10, specifically how to allocate emission reduction obligations following 2012 when Kyoto’s first commitment period was due to end.
COP-11: Montreal, 2005
As JI and CDM plans had been confirmed and the required amount of signatures had been gained, COP-11 marked the Kyoto Protocol being formally entered into force. As well as hosting the 11th conference of the parties, 2005 was the year of the first Meeting of the Parties (MOP), a meeting of the developed countries who had agreed to the Kyoto Protocol. A new working group focussing on commitments post-2012 was also established.
COP-12: Nairobi, 2006
Discussions in Nairobi focussed on ways in which to make the CDM more accessible as well as how to maintain momentum in discussions surrounding post-2012 climate policies. Delegates at COP-12 were, however, criticised for their concerns about possible economic and competitiveness losses, resulting in little discussion of reducing emissions.
COP-13: Bali, 2007
With the Kyoto Protocol being in force for two years, negotiations on its successor dominated the conference. 2007 marked the start of the Bali Road Map towards COP-15 when a framework for climate change mitigation post-2012 was expected. The Bali conference also resulted in the adoption of the Adaptation Fund which would help vulnerable countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. As well as this, an agreement on a system of payments for developing countries who were conserving tropical forests was established.
COP-14: Pozanri, 2008
Negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol’s successor rolled over to COP-14 and continued to dominate discussions. Delegates agreed on principles for the financing of the Adaptation Fund and approved the incorporation of forest protection within the fund.
COP-15: Copenhagen, 2009
COP-15 marked the end of the Bali Road Map and resulted in the drafting of the Copenhagen Accord. The accord asserted climate change as one of the greatest challenges of modern times and declared that global warming should be limited to 2°c. The Copenhagen Accord, however, was not legally binding and did not commit countries to any binding commitments for CO2 emission reductions or, more notably, call on them to agree on a legally-binding successor to the Kyoto Protocol. In spite of this, 114 countries did agree to the accord, showing commitment to the cause.
COP-16: Cancún, 2010
Water was a key focus of Cancun. Particularly its scarcity, cleanliness and sustainability in the developing world. Parties also established a Green Climate Fund (GCF) which would distribute US$100 billion per year to help poorer countries adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, there were no talks on how this money would be raised. Further to this, at Cancún, 76 countries – developed and developing – also made pledges to control emissions.
COP-17: Durban, 2011
On the final day of negotiations at Durban, delegates agreed that by 2015 there would be a legally binding deal involving all countries to the UNFCCC. The deal, referred to as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, was to be the first of its kind. It included developing countries as well as the USA (who had not ratified the Kyoto Protocol) and would take effect by 2020. Progress was also made on developing a GCF. Some responses to COP-17 noted the good progress made but outlined that the talks did not remove the world from the pathway of 4°c of warming.
COP-18: Doha, 2012
The Doha Climate Gateway was produced as a result of COP-18, aiming to launch a new commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol. This second period was announced as running from 2012 until 2020. However, it did not enter into force, receiving only 34 signatures. As of 2019, 124 countries have accepted the amendments to Doha. There was little progression on the funding of the GCF at COP-18.
COP-19: Warsaw, 2013
At Warsaw, the UNFCCC created a mechanism for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to be submitted before COP-21 which would take place in Paris in 2015.
COP-19 also saw the proposal of the Warsaw Mechanism. The mechanism addressed developing countries’ loss and damages associated with climate change. Despite this proposal, and the mechanism for INDCs marking the very start of the Paris Agreement, COP-19 was greatly criticised. This was because of the lack of commitment Poland had with regards to reducing fossil fuels, particularly coal at the time.
COP-20: Lima, 2014
At Lima, it was announced that pledges made by developing and developed nations led to GCF funding which exceeded the target of $10bn dollars. The Lima Ministerial Declaration on Education and Awareness was brought to the fore, formally calling on governments to put climate change into school curricula for the first time.
COP-21: Paris, 2015
At COP-21, the Paris Agreement was announced as the Kyoto Protocol’s successor. The Paris Agreement, with 195 signatories, was to fully replace the Kyoto Protocol and govern climate change reduction measures from 2020. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement was established in the Durban Platform’s place to aid the agreement’s future entry into force. Countries aimed to keep global warming as far below 2°c as possible. Some criticized Paris, noting that significant sections are promises, not binding commitments. However, countries were, and continue to be, expected to comply with their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). NDCs play a central role in the success of the Paris Agreement and force nations to become accountable for their emissions. Total transparency is expected when looking for information regarding whether each nation sticks to, and achieves, their NDCs.
COP-22: Marrakech, 2016
The COP returned to Marrakech on the eve of the 2016 US Presidential Election. After the announcement of Donald Trump as the President-elect, the US’ potential withdrawal from the Paris Agreement hung over discussions. Despite this, parties at the COP approved a five-year work plan that will see countries start to formally address the non-economic impacts of climate change.
COP-22 also focussed on implementing the NDCs. The Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) was also established, providing a guide for NDC implementation in less developed countries.
Discussions took place regarding the Adaptation Fund; many nations argued that it should also be applied to the Paris Agreement to ensure it remains a political priority.
COP-23: Fiji, 2017
COP-23 was the first COP since the US announced its departure from the Paris Agreement. During COP-23, the Powering Past Coal Alliance was also launched. While the alliance outlines that a coal phase out is needed no later than 2030, it does not commit anyone to a particular phase out date.
COP-24: Katowice, 2018
Progress was made on negotiating the Paris Agreement’s rulebook at Katowice. However, disagreements persisted with the rules for voluntary market mechanisms. This led to some negotiations rolling over to the COP scheduled for 2019 in Chile.
COP-25: Madrid, 2019
COP-25 was shaped as an ‘Ambition COP’, serving to finalise the Paris Agreement’s rulebook ready for it to take effect in 2020. Rules for coming to an agreement on the carbon markets were also focussed on during the ‘last chance… to make the case for raising ambition in 2020’. Despite the want for haste, parties fell short of reaching a deal; talks were planned to continue at an intersessional meeting the following June. However, talks prepared to take place during this time were impeded further due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hannah is a second-year geography undergraduate at the University of Cambridge. She’s interested in the work being done to ensure climate education is on the national curriculum and is a geography tutor in her spare time.
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