The Conference of Parties, also referred to as COP, is the body that is responsible for monitoring and reviewing the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change1. It is a consortium of 197 countries and territories. Ever since its inception, the COP has convened annually – barring once in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
In 2015, a landmark agreement was signed in Paris during COP21 meeting, which as of today encompasses 196 parties and is famously known as “The Paris Agreement”. The Paris Agreement pronounced a change toward a world with zero carbon emissions and it came into being as an accord that was meant to alleviate the predicaments of the Kyoto Protocol. The guidelines for striving towards the climate objectives involve decreasing the release of greenhouse gases, with the aim of restricting the global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels, and preferably to below 1.5-degrees-Celsius. In addition, countries are expected to review and improve their emissions reduction targets, known as “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs), every five years. This approach aims to encourage ongoing progress and ensure that countries are doing their part to address the global challenge of climate change2.The task of reaching the goal of capping the increase in global temperature at 1.5-degrees-Celsius presents an immensely difficult obstacle for the world to overcome. Current temperatures have already risen to approximately 1.2-degree-Celsius, which means that achieving the 1.5-degree-Celsius goal would require a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The world must achieve a reduction of 45% in emissions from the levels recorded in 2010 by 2030, and achieve a state of net-zero emissions by 2050, in order to accomplish the target of limiting global warming to 1.5-degrees-Celsius. This represents an enormous obstacle, but it is crucial if we desire to prevent the worst consequences of climate change3. Are the world leaders finally ready to take bold action on climate change or will they once again fall short of the expectations? How can we hold governments accountable for promises they make at COP, and ensure they follow through on their commitments?
COP26, the much-awaited climate summit after The Paris Agreement was held in Glasgow, in the year 2021 and the signatories of the accord had to come up with renewed targets and strategies for financing green schemes of developing countries. Staying true to its hype, the summit did seek to accelerate the fight against climate change and all countries chipped in unanimously for a quicker phase-down of the unceasing use of coal. Despite the ambitious commitments made by countries in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for 2030, they still fall short of the emissions reductions needed to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Specifically, a reduction of 23-27 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions is needed by 2030 to achieve this goal. This means that even with the current pledges in place, more action is needed to bridge this gap and avoid the worst impacts of climate change4. The gap could only be reduced by 4bn tonnes, as quoted by the Climate Action Tracker, a union of climate modelers. Even though, the ambitious pledges are unlikely to move the needle and curb the rise in the temperature to 1.5-degree-Celsius, the more extensive view at Glasgow was to not abandon the 1.5-degree-Celsius goal as every bit of necessary cuts is a step in the right direction. Even a small increase in global temperature has a significant impact on human well-being and can result in significant financial costs. Every additional tenth of a degree of warming is significant, and can result in more frequent and severe climate-related events such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, and storms5. These events can lead to significant economic losses and have serious consequences for human health and well-being, making it imperative that we take action to limit global temperature rise as much as possible. Global warming-related extreme weather has gained attention over the past ten years. Efforts have been made to review and improve strategies for financing “green” initiatives aimed at creating more resilient societies that can better withstand the impacts of climate change and recover from the damage caused by extreme weather events. The focus is on supporting sustainable projects and initiatives that can contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building more sustainable, low-carbon economies. By investing in these initiatives, it is expected that societies can become more resilient and better equipped to deal with the challenges posed by climate change. After a lot of deliberation to bridge the gap in the amount paid by rich countries for green initiatives in poor countries, countries like the US, UK, and EU agreed to raise 8.5bn dollars for South Africa6. This had in turn inspired other parties to join the cartel and sign up for other such sectoral pledges. Both the measures – updated NDCs and Sectoral Initiatives – would lead to a reduction in emissions further by 6bn-7bn tonnes.
1 Omm, W. (n.d.). What is the Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? | WMO for Youth. WMO – OMM. https://youth.wmo.int/en/content/what-conference-parties-united-nations-framework-convention-climate-change
2 The Economist. (2021b, October 30). What would different levels of global warming look like? https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/03/30/what-would-different-levels-of-global-warming-look-like
3 The Economist. (2021a, October 30). Broken promises, energy shortages and covid-19 will hamper COP26. https://www.economist.com/international/2021/10/23/broken-promises-energy-shortages-and-covid-19-will-hamper-cop26
4 The Economist. (2021e, November 18). The Glasgow summit left a huge hole in the world’s plans to curb climate change. https://www.economist.com/international/2021/11/20/the-glasgow-summit-left-a-huge-hole-in-the-worlds-plans-to-curb-climate-change
5 The Economist. (2021d, November 9). What are “nationally determined contributions” to curb climate change? https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2021/04/22/what-are-nationally-determined-contributions-to-curb-climate-change
The highlight of COP27, a recently concluded meeting in Egypt in Nov 2022, was an agreement on establishing a “Loss and Damage” (L and D) fund, a commitment by developed countries to provide financial support to the poorer ones facing the brunt of a hostile climate7. It took place amidst the Ukraine-Russia war and energy crisis that have the potential to derail the actions taken on climate change. Reasons that facilitated the establishment of the L and D fund were widespread droughts in Africa, floods in Pakistan, and wildfires in several pockets of the world. The developing nation pushed hard on the narrative of separating L and D from the adaptation with a moral argument of developed countries inheriting the resultant responsibility and liability for toying around with the emission norms up until this point. Despite arduous efforts, the L and D fund got conflated with adaptation and its shape and scale are far from clear. Although, COP27 may have been a disappointment, but the fight against climate change will be waged on many fronts.
Hopes associated with COP28 are high and the parties will review progress made by parties in implementing the Paris agreement and will consider further action to enhance the implementation of the agreement. COP28 is expected to provide an opportunity for parties to review and update their NDCs and to consider further actions that can be taken to enhance the ambition of their climate action. An important topic that will probably be addressed is the necessity for greater determination in order to reach the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The present level of determination in endeavours to tackle climate change is not enough to attain the goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and alleviating the impacts of climate change8. It is widely acknowledged that more needs to be done in order to achieve these goals and prevent the worst impacts of climate change from becoming a reality. This will require greater efforts and a commitment to taking bold, decisive action to reduce emissions and transition to more sustainable, low-carbon economies. Other key issues likely to be discussed include the need for increased financing for developing countries to help them transition to low carbon emissions, the need to enhance the capacity of countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and the need to enhance the transparency and accountability of countries in their efforts to implement the Paris Agreement.
6 Mason, J., Shalal, A., & Rumney, E. (2021, November 2). South Africa to get $8.5 bln from U.S., EU and UK to speed up shift from coal. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/business/environment/us-eu-others-will-invest-speed-safricas-transition-clean-energy-biden-2021-11-02/
7 The Hindu. (2022, November 20). COP27 establishes ‘Loss and Damages’ fund for climate reparations. https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/climate-compensation-fund-approved-other-issues-up-in-air/article66159827.ece
8 devex.com. (n.d.). https://www.devex.com/news/what-will-be-on-the-cop-28-agenda-here-are-7-issues-to-watch-104651