Each year since 1995, with the exception of 2020, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has hosted a Conference of Parties (COP), where members of the UNFCCC negotiate issues relating to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other matters relating to climate change. The 26th COP concluded in Glasgow on November 13 with a Climate Pact that continues the evolution of global climate policy over the past 30 years.
The UNFCCC was established by the Convention at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The Convention gave UNFCCC a basic mission: to stabilize “greenhouse gas emissions at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” It contained directives for developed nations to adopt national policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, with a goal of returning greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels at an indeterminate time in the future.
UNFCCC began convening COPs in 1995. COP1 established the “Berlin Mandate”, which declared portions of the 1992 Convention “inadequate” and emphasized the importance of setting specified time frames to achieve the Convention goals, as well as to further emphasize the larger role developed nations must play. The Berlin Mandate led to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, adopted at COP3. The Kyoto Protocol focused on reducing emissions and increasing contributions from wealthier nations, setting a goal of overall emissions reductions of 5 percent below 1990 by 2012.
The Paris Agreement followed at COP21 in 2015 and introduced a goal of holding global temperature increases to below 2°C, as well as pursuing efforts to limit the temperature to 1.5°C. It emphasized the need for mitigation and adaptation measures and the need for financial contributions, technology transfer and capacity building by developed nations to developing nations.
November’s COP26 culminated in the “Glasgow Climate Pact”. The Pact committed to maintain the 1.5°C goal identified in the Paris Agreement with greater and more specific commitments to address climate change.
- Mitigation: The Pact reaffirmed the goal of keeping temperature increases below 2°C and to pursue efforts to hold the increase to 1.5° It calls for CO2 emissions to be reduced by 45% by 2030 relative to 2010 levels and for CO2 emissions to reach “net zero” by “around mid-century”. It also encourages parties to reduce methane emissions by 2030.
- Finance, Technology Transfer and Capacity-Building: The Pact calls for developed nations to provide more support for developing nations (in specific, more than $100 billion annually).
- Adaptation and “Loss and Damage”: The Pact urges developed nations to provide more funds to developing nations to adapt to climate change. The Pact further acknowledges that damage has already occurred and urges developed nations to further support developing nations in efforts to avert, minimize and address loss and damage from climate change.
- Collaboration: The Pact encourages international collaborations of many kinds to contribute to progress in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement and the Glasgow Climate Pact.
COP27 is currently scheduled for November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, where these conversations will no doubt continue.