Research paper

UNFCCC and the subsequent climate change conference

UNFCCC and the subsequent climate change conference.

–Anondeeta Chakraborty

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change can very well be described as the first institutional attempt to officially recognize the imminent threat of climate change, as well as one of the earliest attempts to bring the world onto a common platform to fight the menace of climate change.


Environmental issues became very much noticeable from the latter half of the 20th century. The discovery of the ozone hole depletion in 1985, signaled a change in how environmental concerns were perceived. Till then, environmental issues were discerned as some peripheral obstacle. This discovery ultimately led to the signing of the most successful environmental treaty till date, namely the Montreal Protocol of 1987, with the promise to cut back on ozone depleting substances. This success and the impending peril of climate change, led to the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, by the WMO and the UNEP, to evaluate the magnitude and timing of changes, estimate their impacts, publish strategies for how to respond and to provide an authoritative source of up-to-date interdisciplinary knowledge on climate change. The formation of IPCC, eventually led to the culmination of the UNFCCC.

The UNFCCC was negotiated and signed by 154 countries in 1992 (at present 197), at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, informally known as the “Earth Summit” in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The apex decision making body of the UNFCCC is known as the Conference of the Parties (COP). This body is responsible for organizing all the subsequent COP conferences.  Till date, there have been around 14 COP sessions and has been meeting biennially since 2001. Following the signing of the UNFCCC agreement the first session of the CoP (1) was held in Berlin in 1995. The important COP climate change conferences and the impact it sought to bring to fight climate change are discussed below thoroughly.

The Conference of Parties 2 (COP 2)1996:, Geneva, Switzerland-  The second report of the IPCC was evaluated at this conference. The economic and social dimension of the issue of climate change was also considered thoroughly. It called for flexibility and “legally binding mid-term targets” by rejecting uniform “harmonized policy” for combating climate change.

The Conference of Parties 3 (COP 3)1997: Kyoto, Japan- One of the most important sessions of the COP.  This conference saw the participation of different NGOs, intergovernmental bodies, along with official representations from 125 states. The delegation after a week of intense negotiation formally accepted the Kyoto Protocol.   In the Kyoto Protocol, Parties in Annex I of the FCCC, committed to reduce their overall emission of six greenhouse gases by around 5% below 1990 levels, between 2008 and 2012.  It  also established emissions trading, joint implementation between developed countries, and a “clean development mechanism” to encourage joint emissions reduction projects between developed and developing countries. But its success has been very much limited as several industrialised countries left the agreement, with Canada withdrawing from it in 2012 and the US never ratified the treaty. In 2020, the Kyoto protocol was amended, known as the Doha Amendment, which established the Kyoto Protocol’s 2013-2020 second commitment period.

The Conference of Parties 6 (COP 6)2000: Hague, Netherlands- The conference at Hague featured a  major controversy over the United States’ proposal to allow credit for carbon “sinks” in forests and agricultural lands that would satisfy a major proportion of the U.S. emissions reductions. This talk failed but was further continued in the next session at Bonn.

  The Conference of Parties 6 (COP 6)2001: Bonn, Germany: As the US rejected the Kyoto protocol, it participated in the conference as an observer. Some major political loopholes in the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated in this conference. These include the introduction of The “flexibility mechanisms” including emissions trading, joint implementation (JI) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) which allows industrialized countries to fund emissions reduction activities in developing countries as an alternative to domestic emission reductions. A big helping hand was extended to Annex B countries through this process. Carbon sinks credit and compliance procedures and mechanisms were also taken into discussion. Finally, three new funds were introduced for the implementation of the protocol as well as to tackle other environmental menaces arising out of climate change.

The Conference of Parties 7 (COP 7) 2001: Marrakech, Morocco: It set the stage for the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. The work on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was finalized and the completed package of decisions was given official recognition by signing the Marrakech Accords.

The Conference of Parties 10 (COP 10): 2004: Buenos Aires, Argentina: The conference discussed the progress made in fighting climate change since the setup of the COP conferences, a decade ago in Berlin.  To help the developing countries to better fight with the threats posed by climate change, the Buenos Aires Plan of Action was adopted.

The Conference of Parties 11 (COP 11): 2005: Montreal, Canada: This conference is one of the largest intergovernmental conferences on climate change ever.  The Kyoto Protocol finally came into force at this conference.. The Montreal Action Plan was adopted at this conference, with the aim to “extend the life of the Kyoto Protocol beyond its 2012 expiration date and negotiate deeper cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Conference of Parties 16 (COP 16): 2010: Cancún, Mexico: The outcome of the summit was an agreement adopted by the states’ parties that called for the US$100 billion per annum “Green Climate Fund”, and a” “Climate Technology Centre” and network. It recognized the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report goal of a maximum 2 °C global warming and all parties should take urgent action to meet this goal.

The Conference of Parties 18 (COP 18): 2012, Doha, Qatar: This conference produced a package of documents collectively titled The Doha Climate Gateway. It contained the 2nd Amendment period and the extension of the Kyoto Protocol. This conference also inspected the role of the developing countries like Brazil, India and China as the big emitter of greenhouse gases who are not subjected to emissions reductions under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Conference of Parties 20 (COP 20): 2014, Lima, Peru:  The Common But Differentiated Responsibility, which is one of the founding pillar of the subsequent Paris Treaty of 2015, was for the first time envisaged in this conference.

The Conference of Parties 21 (COP 21): 2015, Paris, France:  One of the most important CoP Conference till date. It resulted in the signing of the Paris Agreement, governing climate change reduction measure. The parties to this conference decided to adopt “concerted efforts” to keep the net average rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius. Taking a departure from the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Treaty embarked on the “Nationally Determined Contribution”, meaning that the country entering the agreement can have the option to voluntary set their emission reduction target. The success of the Paris Agreement has still more or large has been limited.

The Conference of Parties 23 (COP 23): 2017, Bonn, Germany:  The main aim of this conference has been to discuss the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015, after it enters into force in 2020. COP23 was winded up with the signing of the ‘Fiji Momentum for Implementation,’ which drafted the steps that need to be taken in 2018 to make the Paris Agreement operational. The Talanoa Dialogue was also launched at this conference, which is a process devised to help countries enhance and implement their Nationally Determined Contributions by 2020.

 Evaluation – Its undeniable how the signing of the UNFCCC in 1992, heralded a new epoch in the concerted global effort to fight climate change. While the success of the Montreal Protocol greatly inspired environmentalist all over the world and the same degree of favorable outcome was also envisaged from the UNFCCC and the successive climate change conferences. To our much dismay, the potential of these conferences and the subsequent climate treaties have not been properly utilized. As most of the agreements remain non-binding, the implementation and the success of those are left to the sweet will of respective states. There have been several notions where countries have literally shunned away from their responsibility to fight climate change. Moreover, the many heavy greenhouse emitters like China, Brazil and India, under the guise of being developing countries, have performed minimally when compared to the extent of their role in polluting the environment. Moreover, there are no effective enforcement mechanisms. The lack of finance for the implementation of the climate agreements is yet another stumbling block. The ongoing debate among the states about the implementation of the Green Fund is a burning example.

However, it can be taken as the success of the UNFCCC in amassing such a huge opinion on Climate Change. Each and every country of the world today are looking forward to adopt clean technology, renewable sources of energy, and eyeing for a sustainable and environment friendly lifestyle of the general population. The UNFCCC and the subsequent climate conferences have also helped the developing countries immensely by providing them a platform for finance, technology transfers, discussions, global partnerships, etc. in combating climate change. Thanks to UNFCCC and the COPs, today the world is much better equipped with innovative ideas like the Clean Development mechanism (CDM), the National Adaptations Programme of Action (NAPAs) or the ever budding pioneering technological innovations across all fronts to mitigate the risks from climate change.  It has provided the world with a common platform to discuss, analyze and come up with effective measures to counter the peril that climate change poses…but most importantly, it has provided the human civilization with the hope of survival.

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