COP 21: The weight of great expectations (Week One)

COP 21: The weight of great expectations (Week One)
logo-COPOn 30 November 2015, amidst great expectations, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) kicked off its 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris.
This post examines the background to COP21 and the surrounding optimism, reflects on the developments of the first week, and considers the prospects of a global agreement on climate change being reached.

The UNFCCC is an international treaty agreed at the 1992 ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro, and has almost universal membership. Its purpose is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent man-made climate change. However, it doesn’t impose targets on individual countries and contains no enforcement mechanisms.

The conference of parties (COP) is the supreme body of the Convention and is an association of all the countries that are Parties to the UNFCCC. It is the highest decision making authority, and is responsible for assessing and facilitating international efforts to address climate change. Paris is the 21st meeting of COP, hence COP21.

The ambitious goal of COP21 is to create a legally binding agreement between 196 parties (195 countries plus the EU) with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C, effective from 2020. Scientists say that if this threshold is breached, it would be detrimental to the health of the planet.

The path to COP21 Paris

Previous international efforts to address climate change and tackle global emissions resulted in the Kyoto Protocol 1997 which came into force in 2005. This committed the developed countries listed in Annex I to the UNFCCC (Annex I parties) to binding emission reduction targets, at least 5 per cent below 1990 levels, for the first commitment period (2008-2012).

A compliance mechanism and Compliance Committee was established at COP7 Marrakesh, to ensure enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol's targets. However, the USA refused to become a party to the Protocol and countries such as Japan, Russia and

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