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The Climate Change COP Out

Greta Scott

Posted on October 30, 2021 17:01

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For 26 years the UN has convened the countries of the world at COP climate summits. This “Conference of the Parties” unites all the parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and is the opportunity for nation-states to update their climate commitments. This year’s COP will take place in Glasgow – but will it be the success it needs to be?

Our reliance on the COP climate conferences is concerning to me, as they are rarely successful. First, the sheer number of member states present is a problem in itself. As David Victor explains, 197 states struggle to agree on climate negotiations. For example, in Rio in 1992, whilst the French government pushed for well-defined targets and deadlines in the negotiations, the Bush government refused to attend the summit if this were the case. These negotiations always fail to please at least one power (usually the USA, which left negotiations in 2001 and even abandoned the Paris Agreement (although this has since been reversed)).

For Amy Dahan and Stefan Aykut, UN climate conferences are nothing but a “factory of slowness”. In these conferences, states “write texts, they lengthen and then shorten them, they negotiate brackets and commas endlessly,” but ultimately achieve little. The majority of technical provisions are left in square brackets as they are the subject of disagreement. This is partly because negotiators are often lawyers and diplomats with poor scientific backgrounds; they are therefore more concerned with form than technical questions, to the detriment of the final agreement.

We can also note a serious issue with equality within the negotiations. Although the UN is the only forum where poorer countries get a say, the COP summits have been known for “minilateralism”. At Copenhagen in 2009 – an infamous COP failure – once it became clear that the parties wouldn't reach a formal agreement, a group of nine states continued with their own negotiations outside of the COP framework.

In the words of Michel Serres, “We forgot to invite the Earth to the climate conference” in Copenhagen. Since 2009, this has only gotten worse, with some proposing the creation of elite climate summits like the “E8”, a G7-style project supported by both Bush and Obama, or even a G2 Summit composed of just the US and China. This is an extremely elitist and unjust way of tackling climate change. Suffice to say summits are not the solution.

The COP21 conference in Paris was widely lauded as a success, but was really a mirage. This summit aimed to reach a binding and universal agreement, but the agreement reached is only partially binding,and doesn't specify how or by how much countries should cut emissions. As the UN admits, whilst COP21 saw every state agree to aim to limit global warming to 1.5°C, the commitments made realistically do not come close to achieving that. Effectively, 21 years of climate summits culminated in an agreement that was not ambitious enough and which we are not close to achieving.

Needless to say, we cannot rely on UN climate conferences to prevent climate change. Whilst it is a promising sign that states are willing to convene to discuss climate policy, it’s not enough. We should think twice before we pat ourselves on the back after every summit. We cannot let the appearance of progress deceive us; we must demand more from our governments.

Greta Scott

Posted on October 30, 2021 17:01

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Source: Al Jazeera

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