COP Out?

The acronym COP has been hitting us in the face for the last few weeks. We know that there is a meeting happening at Glasgow, and that Climate Change is being discussed. And that the decisions made or not made will affect the future of the Planet and of humankind.

COP 26

But what is COP? COP stands for Conference of Parties, i.e., all the nations which have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). This is the foundational treaty on climate change, and came into being at the landmark Rio Convention in 1992. A ‘Framework Convention’ is one wherein parties acknowledge that there is a problem, and commit, more or less in principle, to work together to solve it. However, there are no specific obligations laid out in these. The UNFCC is ‘subject to ratification, acceptance, approval or accession by States and by regional economic integration organizations’. 

Over time, as more information, knowledge and science come in, and consensus grows, a Framework is fleshed out, and specific Protocols and Agreements with clear obligations come in. From UNFCC for instance, we have the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, laying down specific obligations on the parties. Each of these has to be signed and ratified separately—and this is where the crux of it is. Easy enough to sign statements of intent, but countries baulk at signing on to specific commitments.

The UNFCC opened up for ratification at the Rio Conference on 4th June 1992. It came into force on 21st March 1994, after the 50th instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession had been deposited. India was one of the early movers, signing the Convention on June 10, 1992, and ratified it in Nov 1993.

As of now, there are there are 197 Parties (196 States and 1 regional economic integration organization). And these are the ‘parties’ referred to in COP. The COP is the highest decision-making body of the Convention and all States that are Parties to the Convention are represented here.

The COP meets every year, unless the parties agree otherwise. The first meeting was held at Bonn in 1995, the year after the Convention came into force. The COP presidency rotates among the five UN regions. COP 8 was held in New Delhi in 2002.

Apart from the Parties, COPs are attended by Observer States. Beyond this, there are two more categories of participants. The Press and Media are one category of participants. The last category is of observer organizations. These ‘observer organizations’ include the United Nations System and its Specialized Agencies; intergovernmental organizations; and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The number of people registered for COP 26 at Glasgow was close to 40,000, approximately double the numbers from COP 25 held in 2019. But there have been allegations that many delegates and participants from developing countries could not make it because COVID-related travel restrictions for their countries were lifted too late, thereby restricting the voices of the Global South.

This is not the only angle from which COP 26 has been criticized. More than half way through the event, many are concerned with the progress made. Greta Thunberg feels that it has been a “two-week long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah”.

What can we do but hope? And take actions at the personal level, while the powers talk and discuss and negotiate.

Till another COP next year, at a yet-to-be announced venue.

–Meena

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