With COP27 only a month away, we want to remind ourselves of the importance of international conferences in establishing a joint workforce to fight climate change.
Over the period of 50 years since the first global conference in Stockholm, significant agreements such as the Kyoto protocol in 1997 and the Paris agreement in 2015 were not reached without significant hurdles or prior failures.
As difficult as it was to achieve consensus among international parties, the results of these conferences became milestones in the history of global actions taken to tackle climate change.
Hence, as the world prepares for a new summit, it is crucial to remind ourselves of the international accomplishments we achieved in the past and to understand how to cooperate in the face of future negotiation hurdles.
Top 4 historical summits & agreements in climate change
1972 United Nations Conference on the Environment in Stockholm
Number of participating countries: 114
In 1972, the environment was considered a major issue for the first time at a world conference in Stockholm. The fruitful conference resulted in multiple resolutions, including the Stockholm Declaration with 26 principles and the establishment of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The Stockholm Declaration openly recognises the need to safeguard natural resources and the Earth’s capacity to produce renewable energy as an asset for the first time!
1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro
Number of participating countries: 179
On the 20th Anniversary of the first Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, a larger group of member nations gathered together at the Rio ‘Earth Summit'. This conference introduced the concept of equal access to sustainable development and aimed to achieve it within the 21st Century by publishing the non-binding action plan: Agenda 21. Moreover, the UN Conference on Environment and Development resulted in the establishment of many international bodies with critical roles, such as the UNFCCC, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification.
1997 COP3 Kyoto Climate Change Conference
Number of participating countries: 192
1997 became a milestone in the international cooperation efforts with the signature of the Kyoto Protocol which established binding emission reduction targets for 37 countries, entering into force in 2005. It was also responsible for establishing flexible market mechanisms, such as International Emissions Trading, Clean Development Mechanism and Joint implementation (JI).
The Kyoto protocol was followed by an Amendment in Doha in 2012.
2015 COP21 in Paris - Signing of the Paris agreement
Number of participating countries: 196
The conference was marked by the adoption of the Paris Agreement, a non-binding agreement to limit global warming to well below 2°C with a goal to limit to 1.5°C. To achieve this long term goal, countries pledged to decrease their greenhouse gas emissions, created climate finance funds by committing to providing Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which would summarise the efforts to reduce emissions. Member nations also committed to the following;
- Provide by 2020 Long-Term low GHG development strategies
- Show from 2024 onwards transparency on their emissions reduction roadmap using as base the Enhanced Transparency Framework
The outcomes of COP26 in Glasgow
Number of participating countries: 197
In 2021 the COP26 conferences brought together again all parties to follow up on the implementation of existing agreements and limiting the increase in global atmospheric temperatures from reaching 1.5ºC compared to pre-industrial levels. The main outcomes of this conference were the Glasgow Climate Pact and the Paris Rulebook, which called for countries to phase out fossil fuels and accelerate the energy transition to renewable resources. Research and development of green technology and innovation played a major role within the discussions, as well as the continuous emphasis on the urgency of adaptation to cushion the adverse impacts of climate change on vulnerable geographies.
What to expect from COP27
There can be no doubt in the reality that each new conference brings us closer to a final line where the 1.5°C target will no longer be within our scope.
Every conference holds the unique opportunity of materializing further commitments followed by actions which would allow us to mitigate climate change, all the while understanding that adaptation is no longer an option.
This October in Kinshasa, UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed warned environment ministers and others that the window of opportunity to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis is closing.
Some of the priority topics for COP27 will be,
- How to finance climate adaptation to the most exposed countries and ensure the appropriate investments are reached to allow for the energy transition.
- Strengthening national climate targets by setting more ambitious goals for 2030
- Demonstrating the strength of implementation plans by showing results based on commitments from COP26
UN, United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 5-16 June 1972, Stockholm, [online] available at: <https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/stockholm1972>
UN, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June 1992, [online] available at: <https://www.un.org/en/conferences/environment/rio1992>
UNFCCC, UN Climate Change Conference Kyoto Climate Change Conference - December, 1997, [online] available at: <https://unfccc.int/event/kyoto-climate-change-conference-december-1997>
UNFCCC, What is the Kyoto Protocol?, [online] available at: <https://unfccc.int/kyoto_protocol>
UNFCCC, The Paris Agreement, [online] available at: <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/>
Andrea Januta, October 5, 2021, Key moments from decades of climate conferences, [online] available at: <https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/key-moments-decades-climate-conferences-2021-10-25/>
UNFCCC, 2021, The Glasgow Climate Pact – Key Outcomes from COP26, [online] available at: <https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-glasgow-climate-pact-key-outcomes-from-cop26>
The law society, November 13 2021, Reflecting on COP26: what were the key outcomes?, [online] available at: <https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/topics/climate-change/reflecting-on-cop26-what-were-the-key-outcomes>
Energy Transitions Commission, 2021, Assessing the commitments from COP26, [online] available at: <https://www.energy-transitions.org/assessing-the-commitments-from-cop26/>
UN News, October 3, 2022, UN chief: Countries bound for COP27 must make climate action ‘the top global priority’, [online] available at: <https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/10/1129127>
David Worford, October 3, 2022, Financing Climate Goals, Resilience Adaptation Among COP27 Focus, Environmental Leader, [online] available at: <https://www.environmentalleader.com/2022/10/financing-toward-climate-goals-resilience-adaptation-among-cop27-focuses/>
World Resources Institute, COP27 Resource Hub, Key Issues at COP27, [online] available at: <https://www.wri.org/un-climate-change-conference-resource-hub/key-issues-cop27>