COP: A Brief History


Published at - November 20, 2021

12 min read

COP: A Brief History

Climate change has been an apple of global discord in our era. It began in the 19th century when The natural greenhouse effect was first established, and ice ages and other natural variations in paleoclimate were first suspected. Scientists first proposed that human emissions of greenhouse gases could alter the climate in the late 1800s. Many different climate change theories have been proposed, involving processes ranging from volcanism to solar fluctuation. The data for the warming effect of carbon dioxide gas grew increasingly compelling in the 1960s.

Since these discoveries, the science of climate change gradually developed and gained worldwide recognition. It transpired two reactions- alarm and denial. Some people rejected the whole idea of global warming as a hoax, some became anxious but eventually ignored it, while the others became aware and wished to take conscious efforts to prevent this problem and restore balance in the world environment.

Thus different global, multinational and local NGOs and parties were formed to create awareness and affect changes. The most important of them is United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Effective since 1994, UNFCCC developed a worldwide environmental accord to counteract "dangerous human interference with the climate system," in part by stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. It was signed by 154 countries during the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, which took place in Rio de Janeiro from June 3 to 14, 1992. It established a Bonn-based Secretariat and went into effect on March 21, 1994. The Kyoto Protocol, signed in 1997 and valid from 2005 to 2020, was the first UNFCCC-mandated policy to be implemented. The Paris Agreement, which went into effect in 2016, replaced the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCCC has 197 states parties by 2020.

UNFCCC is a big convention and it holds conferences each year. These conferences, The United Nations Climate Change Conferences, serve as the UNFCCC Parties' formal meeting (Conference of the Parties, COP) to assess progress in dealing with climate change and, beginning in the mid-1990s, to negotiate the Kyoto Protocol, which established legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

A Timeline


COP or the conference of the Parties 7th April 1995 when it arranged its first conference in Berlin, Germany. Since then, there have been 26 Conferences in different parts of the globe. Here, however, we shall simply describe the timeline of the conferences held since 1995.

COP 1 was held on 7th April in Berlin, Germany. It was the first Conference. COP 2 was held in Geneva, Switzerland, from July 8 to July 19, 1996. On July 18, 1996, its ministerial declaration was recorded (but not enacted).

COP 3 Conference took place in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997. It adopted the Kyoto Protocol after extensive talks. COP 4 was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in November 1998. The remaining matters unaddressed in Kyoto were expected to be completed during this meeting. The parties instead agreed on a two-year "Plan of Action" to accelerate efforts and devise procedures for implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which is due to be completed by 2000, due to the complexity and difficulty of reaching an agreement on these matters.

COP 6 was held in two different venues, in The Hague, Netherlands, on 13–25 November 2000 and after it failed when the EU countries as a whole, led by Denmark and Germany, rejected the compromise positions, negotiations resumed on 17–27 July 2001, in Bonn, Germany, with little progress having been made in resolving the differences that had produced an impasse in The Hague. However, as USA president George W. Bush rejected the Kyoto Protocol, the United States delegation to this meeting declined to participate in the negotiations related to the Protocol and chose to take the role of the observer at the meeting. They agreed on, flexible mechanism, credits for broad activities that capture or store carbon from the atmosphere or Carbon Sink, compliance and financing.

Negotiators completed up work on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action at the COP 7 summit in Marrakech, Morocco, from October 29 to November 10, 2001, settling most of the operational details and laying the groundwork for governments to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The Marrakech Accords refers to the final set of choices. Other parties expressed hope that the US would re-engage in the process, as it was continuing to be an observer. They also pushed to have the Kyoto Protocol ratified by the required number of countries in order for it to enter into force. 55 countries needed to ratify it, including those accounting for 55 per cent of developed-country emissions of carbon dioxide in 1990. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (August–September 2002) was proposed as a deadline for ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. Johannesburg, South Africa, was to host the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

The Delhi Ministerial Declaration was adopted by COP 8 in New Delhi, which took place from October 23 to November 1, 2002, and called for efforts by developed countries to transfer technology and reduce the impact of climate change on developing countries, among other things. The New Delhi work programme on Article 6 of the Convention has also been approved. The COP8 was distinguished by Russia's hesitancy, with the country claiming that it needed more time to consider the issue. The Kyoto Protocol could enter into force if 55 nations have ratified it, including those that accounted for 55% of the developed world's carbon dioxide emissions in 1990.

Adaptation Fund established at COP7 in 2001 primarily in supporting developing countries better adapt to climate change was reached an agreement in COP 9 held in Milan, Italy. On 6–17 December 2004, COP10 was held in Buenos Aires, Argentina where the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted to promote developing countries better adapt to climate change.

One of the largest intergovernmental conferences on climate change was held between 28 November and 9 December 2005, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. It was the COP11 and since their debut gathering in Kyoto in 1997, this was the first Conference of the Parties operating as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 1). The event marked the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol. The Montreal Action Plan was adopted which was an agreement to "extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration date and negotiate deeper cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions".

The 12th Conference of the Parties/CMP 2 was held in Nairobi, Kenya, from the 6th to the 17th of November 2006. At COP12, some progress was made, particularly in the areas of support for developing nations and the clean development mechanism. The parties agreed on a five-year work plan to help developing nations adapt to climate change, as well as the procedures and modalities for the Adaptation Fund. They also decided to improve the clean development mechanism projects.

COP 13/CMP 3 took place on 3–17 December 2007, at Nusa Dua, in Bali, Indonesia. Agreement on a timeline and structured negotiation on the post-2012 framework (the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol) was achieved with the adoption of the Bali Action Plan (Decision 1/CP.13). The Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA) was established as a new subsidiary body to conduct the negotiations aimed at urgently enhancing the implementation of the Convention up to and beyond 2012. Decision 9/CP.13 is an Amended to the New Delhi work programme.[25] These negotiations took place during 2008 (leading to COP 14/CMP 4 in Poznan, Poland) and 2009 (leading to COP 15/CMP 5 in Copenhagen). Delegates agreed on principles for funding a fund to assist the world's poorest countries to cope with the effects of climate change, as well as a system to include forest protection in the international community's efforts to combat climate change on COP14, CMP 4, held in 1–12 December 2008 in Poznań, Poland.

The 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) was held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from December 7 to 18, 2009. The overall purpose of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP 15/CMP 5 in Denmark was to establish an ambitious global climate accord for the period beginning in 2012 when the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period expires. The Copenhagen meeting brought together ministers and officials from 192 nations, as well as representatives from a wide range of civil society organizations. Because many Annex 1 industrialized countries are increasingly hesitant to follow through on Kyoto Protocol promises, much of the diplomatic work needed to set the groundwork for a post-Kyoto deal was done before COP15. A 13-paragraph 'political accord' was negotiated by about 25 parties, including the United States and China, but the COP just 'noted' it because it is regarded as an external document and not negotiated under the UNFCCC process. The agreement was remarkable in that it mentioned a US$30 billion collective commitment by wealthy countries for new and extra resources, including forests and investments through international institutions, for the period 2010–2012.

The 16th Conference of the Parties was held in Cancun, Mexico, from November 28 to December 10, 2010. The summit ended with the states' parties signing an accord calling for a $100 billion per year "Green Climate Fund," as well as a "Climate Technology Centre" and network. However, there was no agreement on how to fund the Green Climate Fund. The Kyoto Protocol was not extended for a second period, but it was decided that the base year would be 1990 and the global warming potentials would be those provided by the IPCC. "Recognizing that climate change poses an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet," all parties "recognize that climate change poses an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet, and thus requires urgent attention by all Parties." It acknowledges the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report aim of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and it urges all parties to take immediate action to achieve this goal. It also agreed that greenhouse gas emissions should peak as soon as practicable while acknowledging that in developing countries, the time frame for peaking will be longer because social and economic development and poverty eradication are the primary and overriding priorities.

The 2011 COP 17 was held in Durban, South Africa, from 28 November to 9 December 2011. The conference agreed to begin negotiations on a legally binding agreement involving all countries that will be adopted in 2015 and regulate the period after 2020. There was also movement on the development of a Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was given a management framework. The fund would distribute $100 billion per year to disadvantaged countries to assist them to adapt to climate change.

The 18th Conference of the Parties (COP 18) was held in Doha, Qatar, from November 26 to December 7, 2012. The Doha Climate Gateway is a collection of materials created by the Conference. The conference made little progress towards the funding of the Green Climate Fund.

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) was held in Paris from November 30 to December 12, 2015. On December 12, negotiations resulted in the approval of the Paris Agreement, which governs climate change mitigation efforts beginning in 2020. The Durban Platform, which was established during COP17, came to an end with the approval of this agreement. On November 4, 2016, the agreement will enter into force (and so become fully effective). The criterion for adoption was attained on October 4, 2016, when over 55 countries ratified the Agreement, accounting for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Water scarcity, water purity, and water-related sustainability are all hot topics at COP 22, held in Marrakech, in the North-African country of Morocco, on 7–18 November 2016 which is a major issue in the developing world, including many African countries. Prior to the event, Charafat Afailal, Morocco's Minister in Charge of Water, and Aziz Mekouar, COP 22 Ambassador for Multilateral Negotiations, presided over a special initiative on water.

The UNFCCC's 25th Conference of the Parties (COP 25) was scheduled to take place in Brazil from November 11 to 22, 2019. Jair Bolsonaro, after being elected President of Brazil, backed out of hosting the event. COP 25 was then set to take place in Santiago de Chile's Parque Bicentenario Cerrillos from December 2 to 13, 2019, with a pre-sessional period from November 26 to December 1, 2019, and up to 25,000 delegates expected to participate. However, following the 2019 Chilean demonstrations, Chilean President Sebastián Piera declared in late October 2019 that Chile will not be hosting the summit. Then Spain offered and was appointed, as the new host.

COP 26 was originally scheduled to take place from 9 to 19 November 2020, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, but was postponed to 31 October to 12 November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, recently it had taken place and we shall be discussing this conference in detail in later blogs.

The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are necessary measures taken by the world community to control climate change and restore balance. However, the conferences are not always successful in establishing their agenda. In upcoming blogs, we shall briefly discuss the treaties and agreements coined by these conferences and the success and the failures to enforce them. In the eleventh hour, it is to be said that, however, stained with failure, these conferences are really important to keep a check on the heinous activities that facilitate climate change.