Blog / COPing mechanism

Every year since 1995, the Conference Of the Parties on climate change, better known as the COP, has been held. It brings together all of the 196 signatory countries to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the result of the work carried out by the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio.

“The ultimate objective of the Convention […] is to stabilize […] greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that prevents dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. This level should be reached in time for ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, for food production not to be threatened and for economic development to continue in a sustainable manner.”1

To this end, the signatory states undertake to hold an annual meeting bringing together different sectors of society (negotiators and representatives of each country, civil society organisations, companies) in order not only to ratify concrete agreements to fulfil their commitments but also to assess the effective implementation of these measures and the progress made.

Although there is a COP every year, some have had a greater impact than others due to the signing of historic agreements that have concluded them. The Kyoto Protocol was thus born out of COP 3, held in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. It calls on individual states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5% compared to their 1990 emissions over the period 2008–2012. COP 18, held in Doha, Qatar, in 2012, extended the Kyoto Protocol until 2020, this time with an average reduction of 18% in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990. In 2015, COP 21 was held in Paris, which gave rise to the Paris Agreement. This includes “[containing] the global average temperature increase well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and [continuing] efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.2 The Paris Agreement is considered historic because it is the first climate text drafted by all the countries of the world and massively signed (195 countries).

However, the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, announced by U.S. President Donald Trump in June 2017 and formalized in early November 2019, has raised doubts about the real future of this “safer world for our children” mentioned by Barack Obama in immediate response to the signing of the agreement. In addition, the Paris Agreement is not binding, i.e. no sanctions are provided for in the event of non-compliance by signatory States. It only invites each country to publish its reduction targets and thus makes the bet of transparency on that of constraint. To date, 165 countries out of 194 signatories have sent their contributions.3 Even if all of them met their objectives, the temperature increase would still be 3°C, double the amount provided for in the Agreement.

Hence the importance of this year’s COP 25: it is a matter of giving new impetus to the fight against global warming, encouraging states and every sector of society to commit themselves unreservedly to reducing greenhouse gases and thus counterbalancing the American withdrawal.

However, its organization is proving to be a real challenge. While it was initially planned to be held in Brazil in November, President Jair Bolsonaro, a well-known climate skeptic, did an abrupt about-face and stated that he was giving up on hosting it, even letting the idea soar that he could get his country out of the Paris Agreement. Chile was then chosen to host COP 25 thus making it possible to maintain the conference in Latin America with each region of the world taking on its own organization in turn. The protest movement that has been raging since October, triggered by the increase in public transport fares and which has killed more than twenty people, changed the situation. Although Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has announced the withdrawal of the increase measure, demonstrations continue: Chileans denounce social inequalities and now demand changes to the Constitution (inherited from Augusto Pinochet’s military regime), as well as Piñera’s resignation.

It is in this context that Chile’s President announced on October 30 that he would no longer host COP 25, scheduled to take place on December 2–13 in Santiago. Once again placed against the wall, Bureau of the COP was therefore forced to decide whether to postpone or cancel the convention. It was Spain, through its President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, who pulled it out of this bad situationby offering to host the meeting. COP 25 will therefore take place on the originally scheduled dates but on the other side of the Atlantic, in Madrid.

While Spain is hosting the event Chile is still chairing it and wishes to make this COP a “blue COP” by emphasizing the importance of the oceans in the fight against climate change. So see you in Madrid, at the IFEMA (Feria de Madrid) facilities from December 2–13, 2019, unless there is a new twist!

  1. Art.2, Objective, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, United Nations, 1992 

  2. Art. 2, (a), Paris Agreement, United Nations, 2015 

  3. The 165 objectives available to date can be found on the UN website 

November 28, 2019
Yasmina Guira

Yasmina is a geographer. Her travels started when she was very young, through books. It continued when she discovered geograhy in class and then with a bag on her back.