Why COP21 Was a Milestone for International Collaboration and Global Climate Change

The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties, also known as COP21, took place on Dec. 7, 2015, and a new precedent was set for international cooperation toward U.N. climate negotiations. For the first time in history, all participating nations adopted a universal agreement on actions and investments aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions. “

We have entered a new era of global cooperation on one of the most complex issues ever to confront humanity. For the first time, every country in the world has pledged to curb emissions, strengthen resilience, and join in common cause to take common climate action,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement released by the U.N. Climate Change Newsroom following the conference.

What Is the Framework Convention on Climate Change?

The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which supported the conference, was originally formed in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit to address climate change by limiting average global temperature increases. Upon its establishment, UNFCCC developed a mission to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases to avoid “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” as stated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Specifically, the UNFCCC is reacting to the scientific findings confirmed by the IPCC that scientists worldwide agree that the Earth’s atmosphere is growing warmer due to greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) generated by human activity. A report from the Union of Concerned Scientists states that this threshold is estimated to be a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (i.e., prior to 1860).

What Is the COP?

The Conference of the Parties is an annual meeting of all the countries that are members of the UNFCCC, and the objective is to review the framework’s implementation. In 2015, 195 UNFCCC member countries took part in COP21. The first COP was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995.

Previous Milestones

During COP3 in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change was adopted, which set international emissions reductions targets of about 5 percent above pre-industrial levels by 2012. Each developed country included in the Kyoto Protocol was allotted target emissions reductions. While the Kyoto Protocol was a notable achievement, certain developing countries—including China, South Korea, Mexico, and other rapidly emerging economies—were not given targets and were even allowed to increase emissions. The Kyoto Protocol was symbolically important, but legally, it was not binding until countries representing 55 percent of global emissions had ratified it. The United States never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and Russia ratified it after the deadline had passed. The countries that failed to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol have never been sanctioned.

In 2005 during COP11, Canada hosted the first meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Montreal. During the meeting, the Montreal Action Plan was created as an agreement on how to phase out hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) due to their negative effect on the ozone layer. Then, during COP15 in 2009 in Copenhagen, the world’s developed countries and the biggest developing countries agreed to limits on their greenhouse gas emissions. Another significant milestone leading up to the Paris convention was COP17 held in Durban, South Africa, in 2011. There, the Green Climate Fund was adopted to provide funding for countries vulnerable to climate change to achieve their reduction goals.

Outcomes of COP21

By any measure, The 2015 Paris Climate Conference was a success. Attendance grew to 50,000 participants, including 25,000 official delegates from around the world. <ahref=”http://www.greenclimate.fund/-/unfccc-paris-agreement-on-climate-change?inheritRedirect=true&redirect=%2Fhome”>For the first time in history, all nations agreed to actions and investments that aim to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The action plan agreed to at COP21 strengthens the collective ability of nations to deal with and address the impacts of climate change for the next decade.

“When historians look back on this day, they will say that global cooperation to secure a future safe from climate change took a dramatic new turn here in Paris,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said while reflecting on the significance of the international collaboration exhibited at COP21.

Now, in the months following the agreement, the focus is on implementation. To reach the ambitious and important goal, developed countries agreed to mobilize finances and increase support for poorer countries to achieve their respective reduction targets. Between now and when the agreement takes effect in 2020, countries will work to define a clear path forward.

Public discussions of the agreement are surfacing, both with resounding praise as well as skepticism. Krishneil Narayan, coordinator of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, which represents countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, commented on the agreement, saying, “Rapid action to address climate change is a matter of survival for my Pacific people and as such, how can we accept any compromises? The Paris Agreement did not reflect all we asked for … but Paris was never meant to be the last step. It was meant to be a progressive step in identifying new common grounds to address climate change together collectively through a new, universal agreement.”

Another first for COP21 is a climate agreement that applies to all countries, including large developing countries with large emissions totals like India and China. Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief negotiator, was quoted by the Environment News Service, saying, “China congratulates warmly the adoption of the Paris Agreement. The agreement is not perfect … but that does not prevent us from marching forward.” While we wait to see how the agreement is put into action, what is clear is that COP21 marks a significant step forward. “The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and [country] to go back home with their heads held high,” said Laurent Fabius, president of COP21. “Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense.”