• Supriya Verma

What Are The COP's, Anyways?

And what’s so special about COP23?

Sustainability, Sustainable Development, Climate Change, Environment, Global Warming, Policy, The SustainabilityX® Magazine

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“COP” stands for “Conference Of The Parties”.

This conference is organized under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a UN group that aims to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. In other words, to halt global warming. This year’s COP, the 23rd annual conference, COP23, is taking place in Bonn, Germany from November 6–17, 2017.

So what really happens here?

Leaders from around the world come together for a grand gathering to discuss possible solutions to slow down the warming of the planet. These are people from government, academia, businesses, and non-profits. Discussions on the present, the past, and the future, sprinkled with political negotiations and presentations of novel innovative Earth-saving ideas usually constitute the itinerary of the COPs. While Trump has withdrawn from the iconic Obama-era Paris Agreement signed at COP21 in 2015, he’s given much indirect press coverage to climate change, making COP23 one of the most anticipating conventions yet.

And what’s going to be discussed at this particular COP?

Well, with the United States now completely isolated as the only country outside of the Paris Agreement, the world is still pressing forward anyway to cut down on global emissions. From the smallest island nations, such as Fiji, to developed nations, such as Canada, everyone will be working together to develop novel policies to hopefully save the planet for the coming generations.

With raging wildfires in the US & Europe, to hurricanes in the Caribbean, to floods in India, to rising sea-levels threatening major coastal cities in the world, COP23 will have to come up with concrete solutions to resolve current situations, while both cutting emissions and adapting to future climate threats.

All in all, what makes this COP unique are the following three factors:

1. Withdrawal of the United States of America from the Paris Agreement

As the world’s richest nation and the 2nd biggest polluter, the US possesses much power to help curb emissions and halt climate change. However, as quite widely publicized, the country’s top administration clearly couldn’t care less. Instead, propelling fossil fuels forward seems the logical way to go for America, which the rest of the world knows will only worsen the already extreme weather events being witnessed and experienced globally.

However, there are many wiser individuals, cities, and businesses that are committed to the Paris Agreement and have chosen to support it in their own ways. Michael Bloomberg, for example, former mayor of New York City, pledged to pay the UNFCCC’s administration costs if the American administration does not. Either way, such climate champions will have a strong presence at COP23, regardless of the USA’s decision to dishonour the agreement.

2. Compensation for developing nations that have experienced damage from climate change

There have been long, tense debates when it comes to developing nations being compensated for climate change damage that they had almost nothing to do with. As Dorothy Grace Guerrero of Global Justice Now puts it, “The principle is one of compensation because the Western countries developed their economies at the expense of the planet and of poor people.” Additionally, developing nations feel “cheated” by the Paris Agreement as the deal doesn’t impose any legal responsibilities on the world’s rich nations, adding to the tension.

However, the rich nations are against such damage payments, leading to a lack of funds for compensation, and suggest cheap insurance options instead. But it still doesn’t quite make sense how insurance could actually provide a long-term solution to looming and inevitable climate threats, such as sea-level rise and unpredictable extreme weather events. Low-level islands and small island nations are already becoming “sinking islands” as a result of drastic sea-level rise.

To get heads turning on these issues, the COP23 this year is being hosted by Fiji, one of the many small island nations carrying heightened concerns due to the escalated risks they face due to the wraths of climate change. Each year, a designated nation hosts the COP, and this is the first time a small island nation has hosted it. What is especially concerning is that these small economies are being battered by extreme weather events without fault.

Developing compensation solutions to support climate change-threatened nations will not only protect the nation of interest but will also push the whole world to a more sustainable future.

3. Charting a path for the Paris Agreement

Although the deal has been long signed, the “rules” are still blurry. Rather, they’re not quite “there”. Though there are guidelines, the path forward is quite vague.

A diplomat compared it as having a cool, new iPhone, but with no operating system. Without the rules, the next steps cannot really be elucidated, let alone implemented. Laying out the details of the plan forward is needed to speed up the process of reaching the agreement’s ambitious goal of capping global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celcius, with a “grace range” of 0.5 degrees Celcius. In other words, capping the rise to only 2 degrees Celcius. Methods of evaluating performance and measuring success will also need to be developed to keep the nations involved on track.

All in all, COP23 will be vital to not only specifying the path forward in the Paris Agreement, coined as “everyone’s deal”, but will also serve to test the true unity of the world in the fight against climate change — with the USA or without.