What happened at the last 3 UN climate change events?

Krista Greenaway

Krista Greenaway

hero image coference leaders holding hands high in the air at the united nations climate change coference paris 2015

During the three previous UN Climate Change Conferences (which is the official title of the climate Conference of the Parties) the Paris Agreement has been a primary point of discussion. These annual UN Climate Change Conferences have taken place every year since 1995 and run over the course of two weeks. They are essential platforms for stakeholders to discuss the climate crisis on a global scale.

The most recent Conference of the Parties (COP25), held in 2019, was “widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations”. Not only was it coined the worst, resolving Article 6 of the Paris Agreement was pushed to COP26 in 2021. In order to understand why this is important, we need to look back at some of the previous UN Climate Change Conferences, break them down, and find a solution.

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pic 1- Construction taking place at the World Conference Centre in Bonn for the UN Climate Change

The 23rd Annual Conference of the Parties (COP23)

The 23rd annual Conference of the Parties (COP23) was held at the World Conference Centre in Bonn, Germany. Home of the UN’s Climate Secretariat. The former German capital last played host to the COP in 1999, where delegates worked together to devise the rules for the Kyoto Agreement.

COP23 took place between the 6th-17th November 2017 and was presided over by Fijian Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama. This is the first-ever COP to be hosted by a small island developing state (SIDS).

There were several topics on the agenda for COP23, such as; the Talanoa Dialogue (formerly the Facilitative Dialogue), the Warsaw Agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, and, last but certainly not least, the Paris Agreement.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement, which was the primary focus of the UN Climate Change Conference, is a legally binding international treaty on climate change and was set out in 2015. The objective of the Paris Agreement is to keep the global average temperature as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. To achieve these long term temperature goals, countries should aim to reach the global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible so as to achieve a climate-neutral world by the year 2050. 

The Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate change action carried out by the countries involved. By 2020, nations were to submit their plans for action against climate change, which are known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s).

It was requested of the UN Secretariat to develop an online platform that would be to provide an overview of the Paris Agreement. This platform would have weblinks to complete information, as well as references, on the work carried out at the Conference of the Parties under the Paris Agreement.

And then Trump withdrew the US from the agreement…

This was the first UN Climate Change Conference since (former) President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, an outspoken denier of climate change facts, withdrew from the agreement. Governor Jerry Brown of California and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (a vocal supporter of a national climate change levy within the US) travelled to the conference in Bonn to present America’s Pledge, which reports efforts to uphold the emissions reduction target in the US, with more than 20 states committed to these goals, despite Trump withdrawing from the agreement. Syria has ratified the Paris Agreement, leaving the US as the only country refusing to take part.

Pic 2 Greta Thunberg holding her infamous “skolstrejk för klimatet” sign

24th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP24)

The 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP24), which is also known as the Katowice Climate Change Conference, was held at the International Congress Centre in Katowice, Poland, and took place between the 2nd-15th December 2018.

Michał Kurtyka, who is the Secretary of State and an expert in the field of energy, presided over COP24. This was the third time that Poland has hosted the conference, previously organising COP14 in 2008, held in Poznań, and COP19 in 2013, held in Warszawa.

This UN climate change conference incorporated the fourteenth meeting of the parties (CMP14) for the Kyoto Protocol and the third session of the first meeting for the Paris Agreement (CMA1.3).

Guest speakers included the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Greta Thunberg

There were guest speakers at the UN Climate Change summit; Sir David Attenborough, who has been a climate activist long before the introduction of the climate change levy in 2001, stated that the collapse of civilization and the natural world is on the horizon, “The world’s people have spoken. Time is running out. They want you, the decision-makers, to act now. Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of civilizations and the natural world upon which we depend is in your hands.”, and 18-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, addressed leaders,For 25 years countless people have come to the UN Climate [Change] Conferences begging our world leaders to stop emissions and clearly that has not worked as emissions are continuing to rise. So I will not beg the world leaders to care for our future,” she said. “I will instead let them know change is coming whether they like it or not.” 

pic 3 Carolina Schmidt on-screen talking at the 25th UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid.

The primary objective of COP24 was to make decisions that would ensure the full implementation of the Paris Agreement (the implementation package – the Katowice Rules). The implementation package was to give a realistic shape to the Paris Agreement, setting out a path that each country will decide to follow in terms of intensifying climate protection efforts.

The aim of the implementation package was to adopt rules which would create a systematic solution for the whole world. This would replace the point-based discussion on fragmented objectives that do not allow for comprehensive climate change facts to all the most important areas of emissions such as; transport, energy, buildings, and agriculture. Katowice was to make progress on the fundamental elements of the Paris Agreement, without which it would not be able to function in practice.

25th Annual Conference of the Parties (COP25)

The 25th annual Conference of the Parties (COP25) was held in Madrid, Spain, and was scheduled between the 2nd-13th December 2019, however, negotiations concluded on the 15th December. Initially, COP25 was to take place in Brazil in November 2019. A year before the planned start of the UN Climate Change Conference, newly-elected President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the offer of hosting the event, citing economic reasons. 

Chile took over the role of host, however, they were forced to withdraw

Chile were set to host COP25, but due to social unrest against President Sebastian Pinera’s government- they were forced to withdraw. Presiding over the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid was Chilean Environment Minister, Carolina Schmidt.

The world’s biggest polluters, such as the United States and Brazil, blocked non-binding measures that were being put in place to encourage countries to adopt more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the future. The US pushed back on numerous proposals during the UN Climate Change Conference, including the compensation to developing countries for their losses as a result of ever the increasingly intense results of climate change, including; storms, droughts, and rising sea levels. China and India were not on board with the suggestion of even more ambitious targets for the following year

What is article 6

Article 6

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement was to be resolved at COP25 as there was no agreement that could be made at COP24 the previous year. Article 6 contains three separate mechanisms for voluntary cooperation towards climate goals, two of which are based on markets and the third being based on non-market approaches.

The 3 Mechanisms:
  1. The first mechanism allows countries that have already beaten their Paris Climate pledge to sell any overachievement to the nations that have fallen short on their goals.
  2. The second mechanism is to create an international carbon market that is governed by a UN body. This mechanism would be for trading emissions reductions around the world between the public or private sectors.
  3. The third and final mechanism is for non-market approaches and would provide a formal framework for the climate cooperation between nations, where no trade is involved.

These are the last pieces of the agreement to be resolved, with the rest having already been decided at the UN Climate Change Conference 2018. 

The talks were unable to reach a consensus in many areas and the decisions on Article 6, with the requirements for transparency and common timeframes for the climate pledges, were delayed to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, 2021.

pic 4- cop26 cliamte change poster in partnership with italy

What will happen next?

The Paris Agreement has been such a large part of the recent UN Climate Change conferences and, unfortunately, the pressing issues that remain have still not been resolved. These need to be ironed out in order for full implementation to work on a global scale.

COP25 was widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations” and the resolution of Article 6 had to be pushed to COP26, now being held in November 2021 after having to postpone the scheduled 2020 conference due to COVID-19.

The UK, whose 2008 Climate Change Act put a ‘Climate Change Levy’ on companies within the country, is set to take the role of host to the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, UK, on the 1st-12th November 2021.

Who are the UNFCCC, the team behind the COP events, you might ask? Find out and discover what the UNFCC with our article. 

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