As our planet witnessed the terrors of global warming in a series of bizarre and devastating events like snowfall in the Sahara Desert and prolonged droughts or floods, world leaders came together to fight climate change and rescue the earth from the destructive clutches of global warming.
Earth Summit: The First International Earth Summit, 1992
This summit, which was marked by a presence of more than 172 nations meeting in Rio in Brazil was organized with the main objective of saving the planet from deterioration. Apart from addressing the urgent issues faced by the planet, all the delegates agreed on the Rio Declaration- a set of broad concepts of environmental policies that laid down rights and responsibilities of countries.
An important achievement and outcome from the summit was the agreement on the Climate Change Convention which later on led to the formation of Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. However, soon the negotiations boiled down to a matter of money. While the developing nations were ready to abide by the environmental goals, they couldn’t afford to achieve them. They argued that the developed and the industrialized nations should fund them, as they were largely responsible for the global warming. These tensions between the rich and poor nations started showing cracks in the world.
Conferences of Parties: The Early Years, 1995-97
The Conference of Parties (COP) is a governing body responsible for the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since their first meeting in Berlin in 1995, the COP has convened every year.
While the first 2 conferences saw no real results, they only laid the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol. The 3rd Conference of Party was a milestone because it was the first-time world leaders came together to make the first legally binding policy to reduce greenhouse gases emissions – the Kyoto Protocol.
Climate Change Post Kyoto: A Divided World, 1997-2002
With Kyoto Protocol, the world was split in two – developed and developing countries. Along with this, flexible methods of GHG reductions were introduced.
It saw most developed countries joining the climate change fight, including the EU agreeing to a legally binding reduction of emission levels of 6%-8% between the years 2008-2012. But however, the USA refused to sign a legally binding policy and officially rejected Kyoto Protocol in 2001 claiming that they have committed to reducing their emission levels by 7%-10% as per domestic policies.
Without the participation of countries like USA, Russia and China (the largest emitters) the conferences post-Kyoto were quite pointless and ended without any resolution.
COP8-COP15: Time To Give A Helping Hand, 2002-09
Conferences conducted from COP8 to COP15 saw increasing discussions on helping developing countries cut emissions by transferring technology from developed countries. The discussions also made provisions to set up an Adaptation Fund to implement widespread projects like carbon sinks. While many still hoped for the USA to join negotiations, it never happened.
The Climate Battle: Copenhagen, 2009
The Copenhagen summit also called the COP15 was one where diplomacy was favored over actual action against climate change. The overall goal for the COP15 was to establish an ambitious global climate agreement for the period from 2012 when Kyoto Protocol expires.
U.S. President Obama and other major leaders decided to leave the most difficult issues for the future while pushing for non-binding contracts. But they pledged to commit to limiting global temperature at 2°C and the establishment of Green Climate Fund.
It referred to a collective commitment by developed countries for new and additional resources, including forestry and investments through international funds but this still resulted in failure as it saw low targets and goals dropped. It’s safe to say that talks on the extension of Kyoto Protocol faced unresolved issues and never saw the daylight.
The New Hope: Paris, 2015
It’s after 20 odd moderately successful and some pointless conferences that the world stood at COP21.
The overarching goal of COP21 was to reduce GHGs to control the rise in global temperatures and stay below 2°C. There was due attention given to adaptation techniques, funding and transparency, increase in clean energy investment and carbon trading.
The agreement only becomes binding when 55 countries that produce 55% of the emissions will the sign the agreement. But as of October 2016, 144 parties have signed the Paris agreement making it a binding agreement.
Even then there is no force for a country to set a target to be achieved by a specific date or implementation measures if they fail to meet their targets.