A Guide to COP27

In the past few days, the media has been in a frenzy about the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties, also known as COP27, being held in Egypt. However, its purpose has remained unclear to many, so without further ado, here is an overview of what the COP is and why it is significant.

What is COP?

In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) led to the establishment of the Conference of the Parties (COP). With the participation of 197 nations, COP is the global climate conference with the ultimate objective of averting harmful human intervention with the climate system." It also functions as the UNFCCC's decision-making body and is the place where member nations assess their reported emission levels. The Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, two of the most significant environmental agreements in history, were approved at COP, where the majority of climate change negotiations take place.

Origins of COP

In 1959, the United Nations Scientific Conference on the Conservation of Resources became the first United Nations body to address resource depletion and use. Twenty years later, in 1968, ECOSOC introduced environmental issues to its agenda and, with the backing of the General Assembly, organized the first United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. However, the first environmental proclamation was not adopted until 1972, during the First Earth Summer in Stockholm. The conference also resulted in the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which would become one of the most influential players in the battle against climate change.

In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established and became the first organization to analyze greenhouse warming and member country emissions. In 1990, during the World Climate Conference, the international community for the first time acknowledged climate change as a global problem requiring a global solution. In 1992, the General Assembly agreed to host the UN Conference on the Environment and Development, popularly known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro. There, member nations established the basis for environmental cooperation and opened the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which went into force with the first Conference of the Parties in 1994.

Main Actors

- Donors: Japan, United States, Germany, France, and Finland.

- Recipients: India, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Turkey

- Members with the highest CO2 emissions: China, United States, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Iran, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.

- Members with the largest population growth: South Sudan, Burundi, Niger, Angola, Benin, Uganda, DRC, Chad, Mali, and Zambia.

- Members dependent on oil: Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, UAE, Libya, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Qatar, Brazil, Algeria, Mexico, and Ecuador.

Lessons of COP26

The most significant lesson we can learn from observing the effectiveness of last year's Conference is that despite significant environmental measures, we are still far from achieving the 1.5-degree Celsius emission reduction target. Furthermore, last year has proven once again that the United States and China, the two most significant actors in the climate crisis, continue to refuse to collaborate, demonstrating that political viewpoints are still taking precedence over the collective responsibility to rescue Mother Earth. Similarly, there are still four countries, like Iraq, that participate in the activities of the UNFCCC but have actively refused COP membership, revealing that there are inconsistencies within the UNFCCC that hinder its efficiency.

In addition, developments since COP26 have demonstrated that coal continues to be one of the worst issues, yet because of "a last-minute intervention by India, an agreement to speed the phasing out of coal has been watered down to phasing out coal." Indeed, significant countries have infused environmental policy with their own economic interests and continue to argue in support of policies that degrade the environment, despite the severity of the matter. In the end, the greatest problem and largest criticism of COP is that "vast majority of people view climate change as an emergency needing a drastic response." However, international organizations have not yet been able to build an effective and rapid framework for transitioning away from fossil fuels. Worse, these collective efforts have not even been able to set in place transparent, efficient, and strict reporting mechanisms, thus limiting the accountability of member countries that are not doing their part.

COP27: Moving Forward

Despite criticism, it is undeniable that the COP has had some impact on state conduct, culminating in meaningful environmental rebuilding. Prior to the Paris accord in 2015, the globe was projected to warm by 3.7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. As a result of collaborative efforts, this estimate has been decreased to 2.7. However, if COP27 wishes to have a bigger effect than its predecessors, it must keep a few things in mind.

It is crucial that COP27 focuses on increasing climate funding and distributing it equitably. This funding must take into account two specific groups: (1) Indigenous Peoples, who possess greater environmental frameworks and knowledge than any other organization; and (2) the African continent, which is home to the countries with the fastest-growing populations and is destined to become the center of human activity within the next few decades.

Moreover, unlike COP26, COP27 will impose policies and negotiations that are designed to flourish in an atmosphere where Russia and Ukraine are at war. Thus, it will be interesting to observe how environmental policy will be modified to fit times of increased conflict. Lastly, while it is important to mitigate the future effects of climate change, COP must move to address urgent catastrophes that require immediate aid, such as sinking island nations like Kiribati, and propose rehabilitation frameworks for refugees of climate change.

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Illustration by Isabella Gotera

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