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COPs and the climate crisis: 7 common questions answered

What do 70,000 delegates from 200 countries discuss in Dubai? In this article, we will answer 7 questions for you about COPs and the climate crisis.

What do 70,000 delegates from 200 countries discuss in Dubai? 
This sounds like the start of a puzzle. To which the answer is: discussing our future here on earth. We talk about the #COP28, the annual event where business leaders, young people, climate scientists, Indigenous Peoples, journalists, people from the UN, and various other experts and stakeholders gather to address the climate crisis. In this article, I will answer 5 questions for you about COPs and climate.

Since when do international climate conferences take place?

Since decades! I believe the climate movement started in 1968. A group of scientists and entrepreneurs expressed their worries about climate change on the international level in 1968, called the Club of Rome. 

Later, large COPs are held every year. COP stands for  “Conference of the Parties”. They are hosted by the United Nations, and countries, NGOs, and other relevant regional parties from around the world are invited.

Here are some milestones achieved by previous COP’s:

- 1992: Rio de Janeiro is the birth of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), laying the groundwork for COP.

- 1997: Adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, with developed countries committing to greenhouse gas reductions, although the USA didn't ratify.

- 2015: The Paris Agreement, compelling all nations to set emission reduction pledges to limit global warming below 1.5 degrees and achieve net-zero emissions by the second half of the century.

What is the COP28 about?

In the hottest year ever recorded, delegates from 200 countries traveled to Dubai. The goal? Keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably even lower at 1.5 as agreed in Paris in 2015.  This year, states will have to adjust their climate plans based on the 'balance report' published earlier this year, which revealed a harsh reality: most countries are not on track.

What is the most important topic on the agenda?

I think phasing out fossil fuels. There was consensus over this point in the last COP in Egypt, but at the last minute, it was left out. Now, they are trying again, but there is controversy about this year's president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber. Because he is also CEO of the national oil company of Dubai.

Another important thing is the climate fund to help developing countries address climate change, the Loss and Damage Fund.

Is there a consensus on the scientific proof of climate change?

Governments generally align on the scientific consensus regarding climate change, like the impact of burning gas and oil. While there's less skepticism about the science, disagreements persist on priorities, tracking emissions goals, and helping affected nations.

For example, oil-producing countries have successfully succeeded in keeping an agreement about fossil fuels out. And this year, Sultan Al-Jabr, the current COP28 President, faced criticism for disputing the science behind a fossil fuel phaseout linked to temperature limits, sparking a lot of controversy.

Are all COPs bastards?

Experts believe the current negotiations are not enough; even with the Paris Agreement, a rise to 2.7 degrees is projected, says Climate Action Tracker. Don’t forget that impactful climate actions also occur at smaller scales too. Industries, local governments, and cities often commit to more stringent pledges than those made at COPs.

Then there is the huge amount of people attending the COP. This COP is the biggest ever, and that is not a good sign, experts say. This hinders the process of really making agreements on important issues. Because of this, the results of COPsare often not sufficient. Have you ever had a fruitful meeting with 70.000 colleagues?

From all the 28 COPs we have seen, the Paris one in 2015 was maybe the most successful and memorable. And it remains important to keep pressuring on governments, industries and stakeholders.

What is the consequence if a country does not reach the targets?

Take for example the Paris Agreement. This is an agreement where certain targets are set.  In theory, these climate targets that are submitted to global bodies such as the UN are legally binding. However, if a country decides not to submit a target or to withdrew from a UN climate agreement or fails to implement the policies to reach the targets, there is no higher institution to enforce to act otherwise.

At the national level, there are consequences. There are cases where the state is sued for not adhering to the established measures and objectives. The Urgenda Klimaatzaak in the Netherlands is such a case, won by Urgenda.

So, can COPs be a solution to our climate crisis?

This is difficult. Yes, setting an ambitious climate policy with all governments around the world would have indeed the most impact. But how the COP is organized now, is not very efficient. Too many people, with too many different interest, have to discuss a very complex issue. A COP like this is bound to be a perfect place where stakeholders can lobby and make mutual commitments.  

So, yes the COP is important in theory because we must make international pledges. However, we have to critically look at the whole process of negotiating in a COP like this so we can make stronger pledges the world needs!

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