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COP 21 for Dummies- What is COP? What is UNFCCC?

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Christopher de Vreese

It is important to go over the basics before we move onto the more complex issues surrounding the international climate change debate. This blog post aims to paint a broad picture of what the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) is and explain; how it is important; what is at stake; and how it is different to the past Climate Change Conferences.

The Conference of the Parties (COPs) serve as formal meetings that take place within the mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ‘UNFCCC’, between all 196 member states of the United Nations. (The UNFCCC is currently considered the only legitimate international environmental treaty, due in part to its virtually universal membership). The treaty itself did not set binding limits on greenhouse gas ‘GHG’ emissions (CO2, Methane, etc) for individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms. Instead, it provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called ‘Protocols’ or ‘Agreements’), that may set binding limits on greenhouse gases.

The Parties to the convention therefore meet annually since 1995, in COPs, to assess the progress in dealing with climate change, and hopefully establish legally binding obligations on reducing GHG Emissions. In the mid-1990s, the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated to establish legally binding obligations for developed countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, however it did proved to be a failure due to lack of commitment and enforcement. The COP15 in 2009 (a.k.a The Copenhagen Negotiations) also attempted to create a worldwide legally binding Climate Change Treaty, but lack of consensus between developed and developing countries on various issues resulted in a non binding treaty called the Copenhagen Accord.

This brings us to the COP21, (or 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference), which aims to bring together all the Member States, regardless of their level of economic development, under a single climate change regime. However this climate change treaty, if agreed, will be different in form and nature from its predecessors.

The Treaty will have 2 dimensions, which will combine a Top-Down approach (International Legally Binding Aspects) and Bottom-Up approach (National Non-Legally Binding Aspects) into one treaty. The first dimension will try to tie together the different parties through a common thread called the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). The INDCs are basically non-legally binding commitments that each country will make in order to reduce GHG emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change. When all these INDCs are brought together they should, in theory, limit global warming to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. The second dimension, or the legally binding aspect, will be the international framework covering issues such as means of implementations, which will include components surrounding financing, technology transfer mechanisms as well as monitoring and review mechanisms. The aim of this dimension, will be thus to create a common and transparent framework from which all the member states can measure their climate change actions under the same criteria.

The reason why this COP is so important, for the world and the youth of India, is because we are running out of time and carbon space in order to meet the 2.0 °C target. If we do not find a common framework in Paris with common definitions and goals on how tackle climate change, the consequence will be the inability to act effectively over the next 15 years and a growing vulnerability towards the effects of climate change. It is therefore also your responsibility to make your voice heard!

Contact: Christopher de Vreese- christopher.dv@hotmail.com

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Author: Kabir

a shallow being trying to drown in the intense ocean

One thought on “COP 21 for Dummies- What is COP? What is UNFCCC?

  1. Pingback: Video: The high-stakes dinner party in Paris today | Ecologise

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