Abu Dhabi: From November 6 to 18, the eyes of the world will be on the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. The UAE is a key participant in the talks, prior to hosting COP28, the Emirates Climate Conference, next year. But what is a COP and why does it matter to the world?
In 1949, the UN Scientific Conference on the ‘Conservation and Utilization of Resources’ formally addressed the depletion of natural resources and the need to manage them for social and economic development for the first time. More than two decades later, this resulted in the UN Conference on the Human Environment, also known as the Stockholm Conference, in 1972.
The Stockholm Declaration observed that “a point has been reached in history when we must shape our actions throughout the world with a more prudent care for their environmental consequences.” It outlined 26 principles, all of which remain relevant today.
The conference inspired the creation of the UN Environment Program (UNEP), which adopted the first international instrument on climate in 1979, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution. The US scientist Wallace Broecker coined the term global warming as the title of a scientific paper four years earlier.
Evidence of Climate Change
With evidence of climate change emerging in the 1980s, such as ‘acid rain’ in Europe and North America, UNEP recommended limiting the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), commonly used in aerosols, packing materials and refrigerators, to protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The ozone layer helps absorb the sun’s radiation, preventing it from reaching the planet’s surface.
This led to the adoption of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985, followed by the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987. The UAE signed the Vienna and Montreal treaties in 1989 and 1990, respectively.
Birth of COP
The global scientific community came together at the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva, in 1992, to highlight the risk of climate change. The UN Conference on Environment and Development took place the same year in Rio de Janeiro.
The Rio Earth Summit conceived the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention to Combat Desertification. All three are intrinsically linked.
Since its adoption, the UNFCCC has become the centrepiece of the international community’s effort to combat global warming. By March 1994, 165 countries had signed the UNFCCC. The UAE ratified the Convention in 1995. Countries that ratify the UNFCCC are called Parties to the Convention.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the convention’s ultimate authority. The first COP session was held in Berlin in 1995, leading to the Berlin Mandate, which called on governments “to establish specific, legally binding targets and timetables for reducing developed country emissions of greenhouse gases.” UAE Egypt COP27 Summit
COP meetings take place annually and there have been several historic COPs since Berlin. Each gathering now receives tens of thousands of participants and more than 100 heads of state. The formal negotiations take place within a dedicated area known as the Blue Zone.
Another space, the Green Zone, is reserved for business and civil society participants.
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The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC, agreed at COP3 in 1997, bound developed nations to reduce their overall carbon emissions to 5 per cent below their level in 1990. COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 introduced the now familiar global warming threshold of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 in Paris in 2015 succeeded the Kyoto Protocol. It bound countries to declare nationally determined contributions to arrest climate change or NDCs. It also committed them to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees, and ideally no higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The UAE was the first Arab world nation to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement.
Negotiated & Non-Negotiated Outcomes
Since Paris, there are both ‘negotiated’ and ‘non-negotiated’ outcomes at every COP. The first relates to the text of the Paris Agreement itself. The second is positions adopted by like-minded countries outside the UNFCCC process. This help to maintain the forward momentum of the talks, particularly when the multilateral government on certain issues is elusive.
COP26 in Glasgow last year was notable for mobilizing countries, and indeed the private sector, around pledges to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The UAE announced its Net Zero by 2050 strategic initiative on the eve of the Glasgow negotiations in 2020, inspiring other Middle East nations to issue their own commitments.
The focus of COP27 in Egypt, as an African COP, will be on four areas: mitigation (reducing the carbon emissions that cause climate change in the first place), adaptation (preventing the damage caused by climate change), loss & damage (alleviating the impacts already incurred by climate change), and the means of implementing the Paris Agreement (in particular, financial support).
COP28, the Emirates Climate Conference in the UAE will be another historic COP, as it will deliver the first Global Stocktake, or GST, of the nationally determined contributions made since Paris. It will be held at Expo City in Dubai, the highly sustainable venue purposely built to house Expo 2020, which welcomed more than 20 million visitors in 2020 and 2021.