Explainer: COP’s most significant contributions to environmental protection

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It was 27 years ago, in the German capital of Berlin, history was to be made with the first-ever Conference of the Parties (COP1).

The talks, held in 1995, came almost five years after the UN General Assembly established the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) for a Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss binding commitments, targets and timetables for emissions reductions, financial mechanisms, technology transfer, and “common but differentiated responsibilities of developed and developing countries to tackle climate change.”

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That, in turn, led to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, spawned in Rio, with eventually 196 Parties - or countries - agreeing to stage an annual COP to negotiate multilateral responses to climate change.

Enter Berlin.

Germany’s then environment minister, Angela Merkel, presided over the inaugural COP talks, where signatories agreed to meet annually to maintain control over global warming and see the need to reduce emissions of polluting gases.

A general view shows the plenary of the opening of the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) in Bonn October 25, 1999. (Reuters: File photo)
A general view shows the plenary of the opening of the Fifth Session of the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) in Bonn October 25, 1999. (Reuters: File photo)

It would spark more than two-decade of talks, policy decisions and pledges that would aim to slow down the effects of climate change and protect the planet for future generations.

While the pace of decision-making was slower than initially expected, the annual COP talks paved the way for significant contributions to environmental protection.

It was at COP3, held in Kyoto in 1997, that saw the historical milestone of the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first greenhouse gas emissions reduction treaty; the commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases in industrialized countries, laying the foundation of the carbon market.

Fast-forward four years and a breakthrough is achieved at the second part of the sixth COP meeting in Bonn, held in July 2001, with governments reaching a broad political agreement on the operational rulebook for the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Months later, COP7 resulted in the Marrakesh Accords, setting the stage for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. This would formalize agreement on operational rules for International Emissions Trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation along with a compliance regime and accounting procedures.

In February 2005, history is made when the Russian Federation submitted its instrument of ratification to the Kyoto Protocol, sealing its entry into force.

Activists wearing masks depicting (L to R) Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, China's President Xi Jinping, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen before they demonstrate to demand cuts in global emissions during the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 12, 2014. (File photo: Reuters)
Activists wearing masks depicting (L to R) Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, China's President Xi Jinping, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russia's President Vladimir Putin are seen before they demonstrate to demand cuts in global emissions during the U.N. Climate Change Conference COP 20 in Lima December 12, 2014. (File photo: Reuters)

Later that year, in December, COP11 for the first time is held in conjunction with the first Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties (CMP1).

It was in 2007, at COP13, that another significant milestone was witnessed.

The Bali Roadmap set out a timetable for negotiations for a new international agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol and include all countries, not only the developed ones. The plan laid out five main categories: shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, technology and financing.

Two years later saw a pivotal point for the COP talks.

COP15, held in Copenhagen in 2009, saw the objective of keeping global warming below 2 ºC validated, with developing countries committing to financing developing countries in the long term.

This was strengthened two years later with COP17, held in South Africa’s Durban, where, this time, all countries agreed to start reducing emissions, including the US and emerging countries (Brazil, China, India and South Africa).

It was decided to negotiate a global agreement that would come into force in 2020.

This was reinforced in Doha, in 2012, at COP18 when parties agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, and again at the 20th anniversary of COP - COP20, held in Lima in 2014 - when, for the first time, all countries agree to develop and share their commitment to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

But it was 2015 that saw one of the most significant milestones that would cement COP’s contribution to the planet.

COP21, held in Paris in 2015, led to the universal adoption of the Paris Agreement by which the 196 countries pledged to keep global warming below 2 ºC above pre-industrial and continue efforts to limit it to 1.5 ºC.

Members of the European Parliament vote in favor of the Paris U.N. COP 21 Climate Change agreement during a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 4, 2016. (File photo: Reuters)
Members of the European Parliament vote in favor of the Paris U.N. COP 21 Climate Change agreement during a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, October 4, 2016. (File photo: Reuters)

To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries pledged to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate-neutral world by mid-century.

The Paris Agreement was a pivotal milestone in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brought all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects

The agreement would come into force just days before the COP22 Summit in Marrakesh in 2016, after being ratified by most nations.

Following summits saw progress made to detail how the Paris Agreement will work in practice and led to significant reports analyzing the impacts of a 1.5°C global temperature increase, which focused debate on a need for greater urgency in reducing polluting emissions.

One of the next biggest milestones was made at COP26 when more than 25 countries committed to shutting off new international finance for fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. This could shift more than US$24 billion a year of public funds out of fossil fuels and into clean energy.

All eyes are now on the COP27, which will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in 2022, followed by COP28, to be held in the UAE in November 2023, to see tangible solutions to one of the world’s most pressing issues of our time.

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COP27, COP28 will propel Egypt, UAE in driving climate action: Egyptian Minister

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