Understanding COP – The UN Climate Change Conference

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cop27 - The UN Climate Change Conference

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What is COP? What happens there? And why should you care? This blog post will answer all those questions and more. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about COP and the COP27 conference.

COP27 – Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt (Nov 6 – 18th, 2022)

Cop27: the climate carnage we've faced this year

Every year, representatives of countries all over the world gather for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as COP. The primary goal of COP now is to review and strengthen the Paris Agreement. This international treaty focuses on keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

This year’s conference is being held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6-18th. According to the UN, “the Conference will consider how to deliver for people and the planet.” In other words, countries will be discussing how they can do more to fight climate change while helping the most affected adapt with dignity.

The conference is crucial because it helps countries stay on track with their goals for reducing emissions and slowing down climate change. It’s also a chance for countries to share best practices and learn from each other. This year, it’s especially important because the last couple of years have been some of the hottest recorded in history.

What Happens at COP?

During COP, delegates from countries that have ratified the UNFCCC gather to discuss various topics related to climate change. These discussions typically fall into one of three categories: mitigation, adaptation, and finance.

COP also allows countries to announce their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – pledges to reduce emissions over a set period. NDCs are voluntary, but they provide a way for countries to publicly commit to taking action on climate change.

So far, more than 187 countries have submitted NDCs.

Since the Paris Agreement was reached in 2015, delegates have been working on fleshing out its details – specifically, how parties should implement it and what needs to be done to meet its goals.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding agreement that set a goal of keeping global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by requiring nations to cut emissions.

Another hot topic of discussion at COP27 will be climate finance – how developed countries can help support developing countries as they transition to low-carbon economies and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Criticism has been leveled at developed nations for failing to honor their pledge of supporting developing countries with more than $100b in aid to mitigate the effects of climate change.

COP Events

More happens at COP conferences. When representatives from different countries get together, they participate in several other activities. These include:

  • Negotiations – Countries discuss the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. They also negotiate any changes that need to be made to the Agreement.
  • Country Presentations – Each country gives a presentation about what they’re doing to reduce emissions and slow down climate change. These presentations are open to everyone attending COP.
  • Side Events – There are often events outside the official negotiations. These events range from discussions about specific topics related to climate change to art exhibits and concerts.  

COP is also an opportunity for businesses and organizations to showcase their work in combatting climate change. Companies can set up booths to showcase their products and services.  

COP is an important event because it helps keep countries accountable for their commitments to fight climate change. It also allows countries to learn from each other and work together towards a common goal.

Final Decisions?

Most decisions made at COP are not legally binding. However, they do guide how countries should move forward in combating climate change both individually and collectively.

COP – A Brief History

The United Nations Climate Change Conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as “COP,” is an annual gathering of world leaders and climate change experts.

The conference is tasked with finding ways to mitigate, adapt, and finance efforts to address climate change. Since its inception in 1995, the forum has seen several important milestones.

Here are some of the most noteworthy:

1995: The first-ever COP meeting is held in Berlin. The main objective of the meeting is to establish the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

1997: COP 3 takes place in Kyoto, Japan. This is where the Kyoto Protocol is adopted. The protocol sets binding targets for developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

2001: COP 6 is held in Bonn, Germany. This meeting became known as the “Bonn Deadlock” after delegates could not agree on how to implement the Kyoto Protocol.

2009: COP 15 takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark. Many saw this meeting as a major disappointment, as delegates could not reach a binding agreement on GHG emissions reduction targets.

2015: COP 21 is held in Paris, France. This meeting results in the Paris Agreement, which commits countries to keep global temperature rise below 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

2018: COP 24 is held in Katowice, Poland. This meeting focuses on translating the Paris Agreement into concrete action plans.

2020: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, COP 26 is postponed to 2021.

Critical COP Milestones

Let’s touch briefly on two of the most notable milestones of COP.

1. The Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol was an agreement made in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, which aimed to set binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions for developed countries. Parties ratified the protocol in 2005, requiring developed countries to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

The United States signed the Agreement but never ratified it. In 2001, President George W. Bush announced that the United States would not ratify the treaty, saying that it would cost the U.S. economy too much money and would not do enough to reduce emissions from developing countries like China and India.

In 2012, the Protocol’s first commitment period ended without signatories achieving binding emissions reductions. Nevertheless, many of its provisions were continued through subsequent agreements, most notably the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Kyoto Protocol pillars

The Protocol is based on three main pillars:

  • Commitments: Annex I Parties commit to limit and/or reduce their anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Non-Annex I Parties do not have quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives but may commit to implementing policies and measures to limit or reduce their emissions.
  • Mechanisms: Joint Implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allow Annex I Parties to earn emission reduction units (ERUs) that can be used to meet their commitments under the Protocol by investing in projects that reduce greenhouses gases in other Annex I or non-Annex I Parties.
  • Compliance: A compliance system applies economic sanctions against Annex I Parties that overshoot their targets during the commitment period, motivating them to meet their obligations under the Agreement.

Although the Kyoto Protocol was not entirely successful in achieving its goals, it did lay the necessary groundwork for future agreements like the Paris Agreement.

By setting binding targets for developed countries and establishing mechanisms for reducing emissions, the Protocol helped pave the way for a more comprehensive approach to tackling climate change.

2. The Paris Agreement

The Paris Climate Agreement is an international accord signed in 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) held in Paris, France. The Agreement’s primary goal is to keep the global average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  

The signing of the Agreement represented a turning point in international climate change negotiations. For the first time, all countries – both developed and developing – agreed to take actions to combat climate change. This was a significant shift from previous agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, which only required developed countries to take action.

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, countries are called “Parties,” and they must produce national plans – known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – detailing how they will contribute to meeting the Agreement’s goals. NDCs are not legally binding, but countries are expected to progress toward their targets.

In addition, Parties must review and update their NDCs every five years.  

What are the goals of the Paris climate agreement?

The primary goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To do this, Parties have committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050.  

In addition, Parties have also committed to providing financial support – known as “climate finance” – to developing nations so they can transition to low-carbon economies and adapt to climate change. This support is essential as many developing nations do not have the resources to take action on climate change without assistance.

The goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is to prevent dangerous levels of climate change that would threaten human health and well-being as well as ecosystems worldwide.

Criticisms of The UN Climate Change Conference

climate justice protests

Since its inception in 1995, the COP has been fraught with criticism. Some believe it’s too slow to enact change, while others believe that it’s actually causing more harm than good. Let’s take a closer look at some of the major criticisms of the COP.

1) It’s too slow to enact change.

The COP has been meeting annually for over two decades, and many people believe it’s simply not moving fast enough.

Emissions are still rising, and according to a 2017 UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report, “the world is currently not on track to meet its climate goals.” That view has only worsened in 2022, with 3 UN bodies saying that it’s “now or never” if we hope to reverse the adverse effects of climate change.

Part of the problem is that the COP operates on a consensus basis, which means that all countries must agree on any decisions made. This often leads to gridlock, as countries with different interests and priorities block one another from reaching an agreement.

What’s more, even when the COP does manage to reach an agreement, it often takes years to implement those decisions. For example, the 2015 Paris Agreement was only finally ratified by all member countries in November 2016—over a year after it was initially agreed upon.

2) It’s too exclusive.

The COP is often criticized for being too exclusive, as only member countries are allowed to attend and have their say. This shuts out influential voices from civil society, the private sector, and other important stakeholder groups who could play a vital role in tackling climate change.

What’s more, most COP attendees are diplomats and government officials, which some believe contributes to its slowness in enacting change.

As one commentator put it, ” Delegates often lack both expertise on climate science as well as creative imagination necessary to push beyond petty domestic politics.”

3) It leads to a ‘tragedy of the commons situation.

Many people believe that the COP creates a “tragedy of the commons” situation—meaning that countries are more likely to act in their own self-interest rather than the interests of the planet as a whole. After all, why would any country want to shoulder the costs and make sacrifices when they know other countries aren’t doing likewise?

This type of thinking has led some countries to back out of previous agreements (such as the brief U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement), making it difficult for any real progress to tackle climate change.

4) It diverts attention away from other important issues.

Some critics argue that climate change is just one of many pressing issues facing our world today—and that by fixating on it exclusively, we’re neglecting other weighty issues, such as poverty and inequality. They believe that resources would be better spent elsewhere and that we should focus on solutions that have a bigger impact.


Country representatives are starting to gather in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for #COP27 – the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This conference provides an opportunity for nations to discuss their progress in combating climate change and set new goals for emissions reduction.

However, the conference is not without its critics. Some believe the forum needs to go further in its ambitions, while others point to a lack of transparency and accountability as significant problems.

Still, others criticize countries for not following through on their commitments, which makes it difficult to make real progress on mitigating climate change. What do you think? Are these criticisms valid? Do you think the conference is still effective in addressing climate change? Let us know in the comments!

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening at COP or want to stay updated on the latest developments, following #COP27 on social media or checking out coverage from credible sources are good places to start.

  • Greener Ideal Staff

    Greener Ideal helps you live your life in more sustainable ways with green living tips and commentary on the latest environment news. We want to protect the planet and reduce our collective carbon footprint.

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