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The Gap Year Blog

What is COP24 and Why Should we Care?

27 Nov 2018 12:25 PM

Photo Credits: Flickr | UNClimateChange

Edited with permission by Frontier 

On the 2nd of December 2018, in Katowice Poland, the signatories of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will attend their 24th Conference of the Parties (COP). During this two-week long conference, different countries will debate the future of the planet in the light of climate change. However, many people may be asking what is COP24 and why should we care? 

A Conference of the Parties is a general term referring to the governing body of an international convention. In this case, we are referring to the COP of the international treaty known as the UNFCCC. This treaty was first introduced at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992 with its main objective being to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. On its own, the treaty is not legally binding and has no enforcement framework. However it does set the precedent for protocols and agreements to be agreed by the signatory countries (known as the Parties) which are sometimes binding. The first COP of the treaty was held in Germany in 1995 and since COPs have occurred yearly in different signatory nations. 

 Photo Credits: Flickr | UNClimateChange

COPs are held to help the Parties determine if the current action being taken to mitigate climate change is effective and to assess if they adequately working towards achieving the overarching goal of the treaty. It is also a chance for amendments to be made to the original treaty wording, updating the response to climate change as new evidence emerges or as the global economic and political climate shifts. Some COPs have been particularly notable for implementing changes. For example, in 1997 (COP3) in Kyoto in Japan, the Kyoto Protocol was signed. This is a legally binding agreement which pushes the signatories to reduce their key greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6). The protocol emphasises proportional weighting, where highly developed countries commit to reducing their emissions the most compared to less developed countries. In addition, the protocol has been implemented in two stages, with the first running from 2008-12 and the second from 2013-2020. 

Photo Credits: Flickr | UNClimateChange  

Building on this landmark protocol in 2015, during COP21 in Paris, the Paris Agreement was introduced. This agreement acknowledges that global efforts to reduce the impact of climate change need to be stepped up to prevent further damage. The aims of the agreement fall under three main categories; Limit global temperatures to 2oC above pre industrial levels (ideally aiming for 1.5oC above), Ensure countries have the means to adapt to the impacts of climate change and Financially empower countries to ensure they move towards low greenhouse gas emission and climate resilient development pathways. The agreement came into force in November 2016. 

The upcoming COP24 in Poland is another important iteration of the annual COP of the UNFCCC, as it will be focussing on exactly how to fully implement the Paris Agreement. The aims of the meeting are to; Adopt the implementation guidelines of the Paris Agreement, Kick start the action to limit the continued rise of global temperatures and Assess the progress that has already been made. A unique aspect of this COP is the addition of the People’s Seat. This physical seat at the conference will be held by Sir David Attenborough who will represent the world’s civilians. Using digital polling and social media, organisers hope to drive home a clear message that change is needed and everyone has to play their part. In the run up to the conference, people using the hashtag #TakeYourSeat on social media will be able to share their stories of what they want the conference to achieve or their experiences of climate change so far. Sir David will then announce some climate change stories to the government delegates at the conference as collected from social media, giving ordinary people a voice at the highest levels of decision making. During the conference the specifically developed ActNow bot will also go live on Facebook Messenger. It will allow people to feel a part of the fight against climate change by recommending actions they could take in their daily lives to reduce their personal impact. 

In all, COP24 is more than just another meeting. It is an important step in fighting the worst of climate change. It will finally enable the people’s voice to be heard at the highest level, so take this chance to have your voice heard and help shape the future of our planet – #TakeYourSeat

By Ignatius-Roy Hillcoat-Nalletamby - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservation, community, teaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!