COP Climate Talks Simplified History

The first annual Conference of the Parties meeting COP1 in Berlin, was held in 1995 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). We are now looking forward from Lima (COP20), to Paris (COP21) in December of this year.

First though, here’s a selected history of climate change

  • 1800 our world population reaches one billion
  • 1824 French physicist Joseph Fourier described the Earth’s natural greenhouse effect.
  • 1930 two billion people
  • ‘38 – British engineer Guy Callendar shows temperature and CO2 have both risen (Callendar Effect).
  • 1960 three billion people
  • ‘72 – Climate change is barely acknowledged at the First UN environment conference, Stockholm.
  • 1975 four billion people
  • In the same year US scientist Wallace Broecker popularizes the term “global warming.”
  • 1987 five billion people
  • ’90 IPCC First Report – “0.5°C warmer than pre-industrial revolution”
  • ‘97- Kyoto Protocol agreed, 5% emissions reductions by 2008-12 for developed nations (recalcitrant US does not sign).
  • ’95 IPCC Second Report – “discernible human influence.”
  • 1999 six billion people
  • ’01 IPCC Third Report – “new and stronger evidence.”
  • ’06 – Stern Review concludes no action could be incredibly costly.
  • ‘07 IPCC Fourth Report – “more than 90% likely we are the cause”
  • 2011 seven billion people
  • ‘13 IPCC Fifth Report – “95% certain that humans are the dominant cause.”

Now, here’s a distilled account of each climate talk

COP1 Berlin 1995 – ‘Berlin Mandate’ – two years of analysis and evaluation.
COP2 Geneva 1996 – Concluded that nations need tailored solutions, targets as well as endorsed the IPCC Second Assessment Report.

COP3 Kyoto 1997 – A Pivotal Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol was agreed after fierce negotiations. This set out binding targets for the 37 industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse emissions from 2008 to 2012. A few countries did not agree to the treaty, most notably the US, but overall a very positive meeting.

COP4 Buenos Aires 1998 – Established that clarification was needed on the Kyoto Protocol.
COP5 Bonn 1999 – Centred on technicalities of the Kyoto Protocol.
COP6 The Hague 2000 – The US tried to wriggle out of meaningful reductions and negotiations broke down.
XCOP6 – 6 months on Cleared up COP6 issue, setting out how carbon sinks could be used to meet emissions targets.
COP7 Marrakesh 2001 – ‘Marrakesh Accords’ almost finalised the Kyoto Protocol.
COP8 Delhi 2002 – EU unsuccessful in calling for more action.
COP9 Milan 2003 – Last of the details of the Kyoto Protocol cleared up.
COP10 Buenos Aires 2004 – What happens when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012?
COP11 Montreal 2005 – Continuation of COP10.
Additional annual meetings held from 2005 onwards for Kyoto nations – others act as observers.
COP12 Nairobi 2006 – milestones reached on journey towards new Kyoto.
COP13 Bali 2007 – ‘Bali Road Map’ for a new agreement at COP15.
COP14 Poznan 2008 – COP15 work continues. Change in US administration brings hope.

COP15 Copenhagen 2009 – The Big Flop
This was the culmination of two years of hopeful negotiations for a new legally binding agreement to supersede Kyoto, but in the final days the negotiations broke down. Closed-door meetings ensued between US, South Africa, China, India and Brazil to quickly reach some kind of political agreement. They came up with the ‘Copenhagen Accord,’ but this wasn’t legally binding.

Consensus points the finger at North America for the breakdown, but some commentators have said that China was the real troublemaker – blocking the open negotiations, bringing them to an effective stand still and this is what caused the scramble for an agreement as the two weeks came to a close. As China guessed rightly, these frantic unofficial meetings caused Obama humiliation, as the blame for the collapse was dumped in his lap. This may have been China displaying her new found confidence on the international stage.

COP16 Cancun 2010 – 2°C
The 2°C threshold and US$100 billion annual aid package for developing countries by 2020 were both agreed as well as a global network for matching technology suppliers with technology needs. Progress was made on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) initiative – a market mechanism for the least developed nations to save and rehabilitate rainforest.

COP17 Durban 2012
Agreement that a legally binding deal will be prepared for Paris to take place in 2020. Progress was made on the Green Climate Fund with the development of a management plan. It was declared a success, but many warned these developments would not keep warming below the 2°C threshold. 

COP18 Doha 2011
‘The Doha Climate Gateway’ was drafted up, which featured a second phase of Kyoto commitments, but was only limited to 15% of global emissions because Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, New Zealand showed little commitment, US and Canada had not signed the Kyoto Protocol and finally, Brazil, India and China were exempt as they are developing nations.

COP19 Warsaw 2013
This established a timeline for a legally binding agreement to be made in Paris. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines just days before COP19, which ensured that the loss and damage mechanism was a critical issue. Very small progress was made on the Green Climate Fund. REDD+ was finalised and backed by pledges of $280 million from the US, Norway and UK. Steps were also taken towards gender sensitive climate policy.

COP20 Lima 2014 – A New Era of Responsibility?
The ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’ was agreed – essentially it is a building block for the Paris. This calls each nation to submit a pledge, ‘to tackle climate change and reduce emissions’ by the end of March, 2015.

The UN climate change body analyse the sum of these pledges and determine whether they will collectively keep Earth on track for an upper warming limit of 2°C. However, supplying the details behind each nation’s pledge are not an obligation, to the dismay of many.

The Global Climate Fund was set up to direct money towards developing nations, especially those that are experiencing the effects of climate change already. So far, $10 billion has been raised, but many notable experts are saying, more is necessary. Lima indicated there has been a shift in thinking about the responsibility of climate change.

Looking forward to Paris COP21?
The meeting scheduled in December should finalise a new global agreement. Something that has not been done in over 20 years, replacing the all-important Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the controversial Copenhagen Accord (2009).

In 2010 at COP16 held in Cancun, Mexico, an agreed upper limit of 2°C warming was agreed. All the signs point to an agreement of 4°C warming in Paris. On one hand this looks bleak, and would be very bad news for Africa’s future, but maybe we need to agree on a soft target to keep the ball rolling and then ramp up targets soon after – a view held by Lord Stern who published the influential ‘Stern Review’ in 2006.

Energy is starting to build around Paris. The negotiating process is underway with the two the weeks in December only the tip of the ice-berg. All 190 countries are now fully aware of each other’s positions. Decisions are being made all the time, but the road is long and windy.

End Note
We are becoming fatigued by the talk of climate apocalypses and saturated with scientific facts about a seemingly invisible, unimaginable and uncertain issue. Numerous studies have shown individuals have a ‘finite pool of worry.’ Climate change is an illusive problem that struggles to register on our threat radar for long, but it isn’t going anywhere and we need to talk more about it – not just be told about it. Deliberate.


International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development
Mary Robinson Foundation


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