by Elizaveta Nidzelskaya
Since its inaugural conference in Berlin in 1995, COP has established a global forum for political leaders to tackle the climate crisis. COP has united almost every country on Earth under a single issue – an unprecedented diplomatic feat in global politics.
However, this was not always inevitable in the history of COP. Obstruction and non-participation by major political players significantly contributed to the failure of The Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions, and following the fiasco at the Copenhagen conference in 2009, pessimism about the future of global environmental politics was rife (Böhringer and Löschel 2010; Buchner et al. 2002). Continued annual negotiations have gradually overcome these challenges, culminating in the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015, a major milestone for COP. Following the re-admittance of the US in February 2021, only a handful of countries have not ratified the Agreement.
The treaty successfully sent a clear policy signal that world leaders are committed to tackling the climate crisis, catalysing political momentum for green policies and fast-tracking progress on low-carbon solutions and markets, in what has been dubbed the “Paris effect” (Systemiq, 2020). Even major polluters who stand to benefit economically from climate change in the medium-term, such as Russia, eventually succumbed to the mounting diplomatic pressure, belatedly ratifying the Agreement in September 2019 (The Independent, 2021; DW, 2020). The ambitious target set in Paris, informed by the IPCC, to remain below 1.5 degrees warming above pre-industrial levels has validated the scientific basis for anthropogenic climate change worldwide. Almost every net-zero pledge or climate change policy references this target, a testament to its global impact and reach.
Embedded in the Agreement’s framework are lessons learnt from previous blunders, and this ability to integrate the lessons of past failures is undoubtedly another diplomatic achievement of COP. Paris swapped Kyoto’s binding emissions targets for a more flexible pledging mechanism that encourages countries to continuously ratchet up ambition, allowing it to include countries at all stages of development. Since COP21, when the Paris Agreement was signed, its implementation has been refined through the Enhanced Transparency Framework. Developed at COP24 in Katowice, the ETF establishes how countries will report their emissions transparently and emphasise the provision of support to developing countries in improving their reporting over time (UNFCCC).
In addition, COP has framed the climate crisis as a broad issue that includes in its vision of a sustainable future poverty reduction, peace and the protection of human rights. It is also becoming increasingly inclusive. The Talanoa Dialogue Platform was launched at COP23 to allow non-state actors such as companies, local governments and members of the public to influence climate negotiations as part of a ‘facilitative dialogue’ with policymakers through online submissions and in-person discussions (SEI, 2018). At COP25 a Five-Year Gender Action Plan was also adopted to ensure that women are represented as decision-makers in international climate policy (UNFCCC). Furthermore, COP is increasingly giving young people a seat at the table, such as by including youth delegates at high level briefings.
Buchner et al., 2002. ‘Economic consequences of the US withdrawal from the Kyoto/Bonn Protocol’. Climate Policy.
Böhringer and Löschel, 2010. ‘Market power and hot air in international emissions trading: the impact of the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol’. Applied Economics.
DW, 2020. ‘Russia unveils plan to ‘use the advantages’ of climate change.’ https://www.dw.com/en/russia-unveils-plan-to-use-the-advantages-of-climate-change/a-51894830.
The Independent, 2021. ‘Climate crisis: Russian gas tankers make first winter voyages of Northern Sea Route as ice retreats’. https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/arctic-sea-route-ice-climate-russia-gas-tanker-b1792881.html.
SEI, 2018. ‘The Talanoa Dialogue: an explainer’. https://www.sei.org/featured/talanoa-dialogue-an-explainer/
Systemiq. 2020. The Paris Effect: How the Climate Agreement is Reshaping the Global Economy.
UNFCCC. ‘Reporting and Review under the Paris Agreement.’ https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/transparency-and-reporting/reporting-and-review-under-the-paris-agreement.
UNFCCC. ‘The Gender Action Plan’ https://unfccc.int/topics/gender/workstreams/the-gender-action-plan.