Over the last three decades, the UN has brought the world together to secure historic international agreements and advance global climate action. The annual climate change meetings are formally known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC) Conferences of the Parties (COP). These conferences rely on the best available science to direct climate action and provide guidance for policymaking. The climate COP process was born n 1992 as part of the Rio Earth Summit which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The agreement that emerged from that meeting provides a framework for negotiating specific international treaties (called “protocols”) that include setting binding limits on greenhouse gases (GHGs).
The UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty negotiated at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The UNFCCC entered into force on March 21, 1994, and currently has 198 parties. The parties started meeting annually in 1995 with the goal of reducing GHG emissions to limit global temperature increases.
1995/1996: The first conference of the parties (COP 1) took place in Berlin, Germany and it laid the groundwork for COP2 in Geneva, Switzerland. The scientific findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on climate change were accepted at COP2 and uniform harmonized policies were rejected.
1997: COP 3 took place in Kyoto, Japan. It was at COP3 that the parties adopted the Kyoto Protocol which outlines the GHG reduction obligations of developed nations known as Annex I countries,
1998/1999: Very little or no progress was made at COP 4 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and COP 5, in Bonn, Germany, however, the latter laid the foundation for progress at COP6.
2000: COP 6 took place in The Hague, Netherlands, and despite the non-participation of U.S. President George W. Bush, this meeting produced progress on several fronts including flexible mechanisms like carbon sinks, compliance, and climate finance.
2001: COP 7 in Marrakech, Morocco produced the Marrakech Accords, which set the stage for nations to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, once again without the participation of the U.S. delegation under the Bush administration. Nonetheless, the process succeeded in advancing operational rules for emissions trading, compliance regimes, and climate adaptation funding.
2002: COP 8 in New Delhi, India addressed some of the issues surrounding the processes by which technology could be transferred from industrialized countries to states in need. This progress was offset by the refusal of the U.S., Russia, and Australia to ratify the Kyoto protocol.
2003: At COP 9 in Milan, Italy the parties agreed to an Adaptation Fund to support developing countries in their efforts to adapt to climate change. COP9 also addressed capacity building through technology transfer.
2004: At COP 10 in Buenos Aires, Argentina the emphasis was on climate change mitigation and adaptation, particularly in developing countries. The Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted and post-Kyoto mechanisms were discussed.
2005: COP 11 in Montreal, Canada marked the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, it also extended the protocol and called for deeper cuts in GHG emissions. This was also the first annual conference meeting of the parties in the Kyoto Protocol (CMP1).
2006: COP 12 took place in Nairobi, Kenya and it largely avoided any mention of reducing emissions, although there was support for the Adaptation Fund and the clean development mechanism.
2007: COP 13 in Bali, Indonesia, produced the Bali Action Plan, which included a timeline for the post-2012 framework (the end of the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol).
2008: At COP 14 in Poznań, Poland, delegates negotiated a successor to the Kyoto protocol and agreed on principles for providing financing to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change. They also approved a mechanism designed to protect forests.
2009: COP 15 in Copenhagen, Denmark did not reach an agreement on the goal of setting a binding agreement for long-term action. Although the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Financing did make some progress.
2010: The agreement at COP16 in Cancun, Mexico included a deal to limit global warming to below 2.0 °C (3.6 °F) relative to the pre-industrial level. It includes provisions for the establishment of the Climate Fund and there was a discussion of a market-based finance mechanism
2011: The agreement at COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, included progress on the design of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) with the goal of channeling $100 billion a year to poorer nations by 2020. Although there is an agreement in principle, the amount of actual fiancing consistently falls well short of the $100 billion annual pledge.
2012: At COP18 in Doha, Qatar, delegates agreed on a firm timetable to adopt a universal climate agreement by 2015. They also reviewed and discussed approaches to scaling climate finance as well as the mechanisms of technology transfer to developing countries.
2013: Ahead of COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland, there were calls for progress on the green climate fund (GCF). The agreement that came out of COP19 addressed Loss and Damage mechanisms alongside pledges to deliver new emissions reduction plans from the US, EU, and China. The business community was prominently featured at COP19.
2014: The major accomplishments of COP20 in Lima, Peru involved emissions reduction pledges and climate finance. Specifically, efforts to define vulnerable developing nations and wealthy countries. The draft agreement called for an “ambitious agreement” in 2015 that reflects the “differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” of each nation.
2015: Despite detractors, the COP21 Agreement in Paris, France was widely heralded as an unprecedented turning point that laid the foundation for the Paris Agreement. It augured optimistic predictions for climate action including a critically important paradigm shift in energy production (the beginning of the end of fossil fuels and an era of unprecedented growth for renewables).
2016/2017: Although the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States cast a shadow over COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, everyone seemed to ignore his rejection of the Paris Agreement and focus on the evidence at COP23.in Bonn, Germany.
2018: At COP24 in Katowice, Poland the business community’s climate efforts took center stage, but with the exception of the Paris Rulebook, the 24th Conference of the Parties did not achieve its key goals and objectives including those related to ratcheting-up ambitions and climate finance.
2019: Ahead of COP 25 in Madrid, Spain, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres said we are faced with a choice, we either choose the path to hope or the path to surrender. Despite this warning, the talks were widely considered to be a failure as they did not produce any significant achievements.
2020/2021: Due to the Covid pandemic there was no conference of the parties in 2020. At COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021, more than 100 countries agreed to ratchet up their emissions reduction targets. Although little progress was made on climate finance, COP26 set the stage for COP27.
2022: Before the start of COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, UN Chief Antonio Guterres called for a “historic pact” saying “we will be doomed” if rich countries fail to bridge the gulf with poor countries. By the end of COP27, it was clear that the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan would include significant progress on Loss and Damage financing. The draft plan calls for “comprehensive and synergetic” action on the “interlinked global crises of climate change and biodiversity loss in the broader context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). The plan highlights the global transition to low emissions, economic development, and poverty eradication, alongside technology transfer and capacity-building in developing countries.