What Are COP Meetings For? Does It Matter Who Hosts?
For almost three decades, the United Nations has been holding an annual summit on the climate known as COP, which stands for Conference of the Parties. Delegates travel to a chosen city from around the world to try to find ways to prevent or ameliorate the worst effects of global warming. Experience has shown that progress can hinge on a variety of factors including which country is hosting. Eyebrows were raised when the United Arab Emirates, one of the biggest oil producers in OPEC, was selected as the location for this years COP28. 1. How did COPs originate? They started after the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, which brought together 179 countries. That meeting established the framework for COP1, which was held in 1995 in Berlin. The aim each year is to spur countries to action and keep track of progress. COP28 is set to open on Nov. 30 in Dubai, which is part of the UAE. 2. What happens at a COP summit? The main focus is on how to cut carbon emissions and to protect those countries that are hit hardest by climate change. Breakthroughs were achieved in 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, where participants outlined the legal obligations of rich countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions; and in 2015 in Paris, where a clear goal was set to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius ideally 1.5C above preindustrial levels. (Were currently at about 1.1C.) COPs typically last two weeks. At the start, world leaders come to provide political direction, with those from low-lying islands and poorer countries particularly visible in calling for more to be done. Then they leave, and the second week is dominated by closed-door bargaining among government officials on a final deal. Decisions are reached by consensus. 3. Who picks the host and what is its role? The position rotates each year among the UNs five regional groupings, with interested countries submitting bids. Governments select the host by consensus in an opaque process. The winner becomes the captain, assessing the level of ambition to aim for that year while keeping everyone on board. Its a task that usually starts long before the summit. Before COP26 in Glasgow, for example, British politician Alok Sharma, who served as the meetings president, traveled the world sowing the seeds for a pledge to end the use of coal. But the real work starts at the conference, running among delegations to get a deal over the line. (The UAE was chosen to follow Egypt after it received the unanimous backing of the Asia-Pacific group. While theyre both Arab countries in the Middle East, Egypts COP was considered Africas turn.) 4. When have hosts made a difference either way? The UKs work paid off in part when it secured a deal to phase down coal in 2021. While that fell short of the phase out phrase many wanted, it was still the first time any wording regarding a specific fossil fuel was included. The following year, Egypt scored a win in creating a loss and damage fund to help the poorest nations deal with the impact of climate change. But it was criticized for failing to find consensus on further reducing the use of fossil fuels or otherwise build on previous commitments. European countries and their allies complained about a hands-off Egyptian presidency that failed to launch early negotiations or foster trust among countries. (These are 197 countries with very different levels of aspiration and capacities, Wael Aboulmagd, Egypts special representative, said in response.) 5. What is the controversy over the UAE? COP28 is being presided over by Sultan Al Jaber, who heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Co., the UAEs state producer. Environmental activists fear the UAE could use its presidency to keep the focus on areas like how to pay for damage, rather than stopping it in the first place. Although the country in 2021 became the first of the Persian Gulfs petrostates to commit to eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions within its borders, its still among the worlds biggest polluters per capita. (In August, Adnoc set itself a more ambitious climate target ahead of the COP28.) Supporters of Al Jaber including John Kerry, the US special envoy for the climate, and his European counterpart, Frans Timmermans have argued Al Jaber could prove effective in persuading other oil-rich countries to move faster. For his part, Al Jaber has spoken in favor of developing sufficient clean power so as to phase out oil and gas production as quickly as possible and in a way that lifts living standards. The UAE and Saudi Arabia argue that oil-producing states should be given a bigger say in climate talks, since their economies depend so much on fossil fuels. 6. What are the expectations for COP28? Countries are set to complete a once-every-five-years assessment of where the world is at in meeting its climate targets a critical step for assessing how much of an impact theyre having. Some developed countries, particularly in Europe, are likely to call for higher ambitions in cutting emissions, such as by phasing out all fossil fuels and peaking emissions (stop them from climbing) by 2025. Financing to help developing countries deal with and mitigate the effects of climate change is set to remain at the forefront, as the world has yet to meet a $100 billion annual commitment it was supposed to hit at the end of the last decade. (Michael R. Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is the UN secretary generals special envoy for climate ambition and solutions. Bloomberg Philanthropies regularly partners with the COP presidency to promote climate action.) More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com 2023 Bloomberg L.P.