by Kristian Gubsch
1. What’s with all these acronyms?
When I first started learning about the Conference of the Parties it was hard to keep straight all the acronyms. Governments love to use them but often it can make things difficult to understand. Some of the most common acronyms used when discussing the Conference of the Parties are UNFCCC, IPCC, and COP. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established to limit greenhouse gas emissions to a point that would prevent significant human interference with Earth’s climate. While this goal is very broad, it establishes a baseline for the UNFCCC to establish non-binding emission limits for member countries (member countries are also referred to as Parties) and create agreements or protocols for the Parties to follow. After the UNFCCC treaty was signed, the first Conference of the Parties (COP) was held and these formal meetings serve as opportunities for global leaders to discuss, assess, and push forward climate change action. The science that informs the climate action that is discussed at the Conference of the Parties stems from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC was initially formed in 1988 to prepare a review of climate change science, the impacts of climate change, and to figure out how the world is going to respond to these impacts. Their Assessment Reports, now five in total since 1988, consist of the most comprehensive global analysis of climate change and are an excellent resource to those of us who would like to be more educated on the topic. Now that you have a background in the acronyms, let’s dive into what has happened at previous COPs.
2. What is the Kyoto Protocol and why is it important?
The Kyoto Protocol was the result of the 3rd Conference of the Parties (COP3) in Kyoto, Japan. Basically, this treaty follows along the lines of why the UNFCCC was created: to control anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This plan was a first attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world as countries that ratified the agreement were given maximum carbon emissions levels. Despite this plan, global emissions overall have continued to increase as the plan targeted developed nations like the U.S. and Canada and did not include other big-emitters like India and China.
3. What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement came as a result of the 21st Conference of the Parties with the main goal of the agreement to limit global temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, this agreement is non-binding which makes it difficult to hold countries accountable for their promised contributions to the agreement. However, the Paris Agreement was very significant as it was a symbol of almost universal global collaboration towards limiting the effects of climate change as 194 states and the European Union have signed the agreement. I am also well aware that my country, the United States, intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement which will take effect November 4, 2020. Despite this, there are still many Americans who support global climate action and the stance of our government does not necessarily reflect the review of the public majority. My home state of Washington has been a leader in climate change policy and continues to push forward legislation that aims to limit our contribution to the issue. This goes to show that despite the federal stance on the issue, states and, more importantly, individuals, have the potential to make incremental progress in educating their communities. Through this, they can empower local governments and businesses to make the appropriate changes.
4. What is going to be the focus of COP25?
At COP 25, countries will be tasked with reevaluating each of their environmental commitments with many nations still far from their Paris Agreement goals and even those commitments are not estimated to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. COP 25 gives the world an opportunity to reinvigorate ambitious climate actions. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for the Paris Agreement are to be submitted in 2020 so this conference is an opportunity to revamp each member country’s contribution. Another desired critical outcome of COP 25 is enhanced outreach to boost overall climate action. Climate change cannot be solved purely on the governmental level, so it is important to ensure private sectors and citizens like us are on board with pursuing more aggressive climate action. According to Patricia Espinosa, the U.N.’s top climate change official, COP 25, “is our opportunity to make major progress on what people throughout the world are demanding—real and lasting action on climate change.”
5. Why did the conference move from Santiago to Madrid?
You may have heard through national headlines that Santiago had to withdraw from hosting two major international summits due to widespread public protests. As a result, COP25 and the APEC summit had to be cancelled and relocated to another venue. Recently, Madrid has stepped forward to organize and host COP25 which is a daunting task considering there is over 20,000 people are expected to attend. These protests began as the Chilean government increased transportation costs, but quickly escalated as over 400,000 Chileans took to the streets to demand better quality healthcare, living conditions, and education. As the protests turned violent, the unprecedented decision to cancel COP25 in Santiago was made and several days later Madrid stepped forward to host the world’s largest conference on climate change.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank the Opportunity Fund, Office of Undergraduate Research, and Honors College at Washington State University for funding my housing and meals during my trips to Washington, D.C. and Madrid. I would also like to thank Alaska Airlines for covering the cost of my domestic flights.