What are the UN Climate Change Conferences?
The UN Climate Change Conferences are meetings hosted annually and rotate among the United Nations regional groups. The conferences are held to allow the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) parties to assess progress made in terms of climate change.
The UNFCCC had established an international environmental treaty in the 1990s to tackle 'dangerous' human interference with the climate system and aim to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations. The COP meetings are held to discuss the action towards both this framework and the Paris Agreement.
The Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement was adopted at the COP21 meeting in 2015. The legally binding international treaty sets out long-term goals to guide all nations to combat climate change and adapt to its effects. Its main goal is to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by encouraging nations to substantially reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. For this to take affect, the IPCC report stated that global emissions must peak by 2025, a goal now only three years away.
The nations also agreed to meet every 5 years in order to review the countries commitments, as well as to provide financial aid to developing countries in order to mitigate climate change. The Paris Agreement was a landmark in tackling climate change, bringing nations together for the first time to act for a common cause.
"The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions." - Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General
COP26, hosted in Glasgow at the back-end of 2021, brought together over 50,000 people including world leaders, party delegates and media representatives. The outcome was the Glasgow Climate Pact, a compromise between countries after intense negotiations among almost 200 countries.
The Pact aimed to ensure the next decade sees considerable climate action and support, and produced new 'building blocks' in order to achieve implementation of the Paris Agreement. It was agreed that there would be pursued efforts to limit the global average temperature to 1.5 degrees, countries were also told to present stronger national action plans to tackle carbon dioxide emissions in the next year instead of in 2025.
The decision on how to move away from fossil fuels was contested, however, ultimately decided on a provision calling for a phase-down of coal power and phase-out of 'insufficient' fossil fuel subsidies. Other decisions included establishing a work programme to define a global goal on adaptation, and to strengthen Santiago Network, that connects vulnerable countries with technical assistance and resources to assist in climate risks.
Although COP26 discussed and acted on key issues, it ultimately highlighted the drastic issues still at play and the little effort made to really combat climate change.
Developed countries, for example, joined the meetings having failed to keep their promise in delivering $100 billion a year for the developing countries. In light of this, they agreed to reaffirm the pledge, urging countries to deliver on the goal urgently and expressed confidence that the target would subsequently be met next year.
If acted upon, the decisions made at COP26 should make a difference. The reality of this statement, however, depends on the amount of effort put in to ensure this step forward. As evident in previous years, countries have indeed failed to meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement and other frameworks in the time expected.
COP26 and its Glasgow Climate Pact were a landmark in terms of science, collaboration and numbers. The response to the agreements made will be crucial in the world's developments in tackling climate change. Even if the Glasgow Climate Pact is fully met, the UN Climate Change Conferences will remain essential.
Sustainability is years, if not decades, away, if even possible.