7 Nov 2022
WHAT IS COP27? 27 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
As we speak, 165 nations (well, technically 165 parties, but we’ll get to that later) are meeting in Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt for COP27.
But what exactly is COP27? And didn’t we just have COP26 last year?
If COPs are new on your radar or if recent commentary around the conference is leaving you confused, look no further.
Our Global Climate Program Manager Oliver Toohey is one of two WWF-Australia staff members attending this year’s climate COP, and he has kindly compiled a handy list of things you should know about COP27 - 27 of them, in fact.
Read on and have all your COP questions answered.
1. What does COP actually stand for?
Olly: COP is an acronym for ‘Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ (UNFCCC). It’s a mouthful, so it’s simply shortened to COP. There are 165 Countries that have signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change treaty, and those are the “parties” that will be meeting. The “conference of the parties” is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention - all decisions relating to the UNFCCC, and Paris Agreement, are made during the COP meeting.
2. We’re in 2022… why is it COP27?
Olly: The number has nothing to do with years, but explains that this will be the 27th meeting of the parties to the UNFCCC. The first one took place back in Berlin in 1995 and they have since taken place annually (with one break in 2020 due to COVID-19).
3. What’s a party? Why not just say country?
Olly: This is largely a case of technical legal jargon. A signatory to a treaty (any being or group who has signed a treaty) is known as a “party” to that treaty, just like if you sign a contract you become a party to that contract. It is a legal definition that defines who is engaged in the negotiations.
It’s also worth noting that not all parties to the convention are recognised as countries by all other parties to the convention. For example, the state of Palestine is a party to the convention.
4. When is it?
Olly: COP is taking place from Sunday 6 to Friday 18 November, although it often runs over time.
5. Where is it?
Olly: This year it's being held in Sharm El Sheik, a town located on the Red Sea in Egypt.
6. Egypt? Wasn’t the last one in Glasgow, and what about Paris in 2015? Why does it move around?
Olly: The COP is hosted by a different country each year. This is decided on a rotational basis. This year it is the African continent's turn to host a COP, and Egypt stepped forward as the hosting nation.
7. Speaking of Paris, wasn’t the Paris Agreement supposed to be the final piece of the climate policy puzzle when it was signed in 2016? Why are countries still meeting about this?
Olly: The Paris Agreement set up a framework of rules that built on previous work by countries in this space. However, there are significant gaps in this framework that need to be filled before it can be fully enacted. These gaps are what are being negotiated now. There are also agreed pieces of ongoing work that countries will be negotiating.
8. What sort of ongoing work?
Olly: Negotiations will cover a broad range of topics, but this year the key elements are likely to be:
- carbon markets (how offsets and carbon trading will work between countries; i.e. can a country with lots of climate ambition sell their carbon achievements to a country who is struggling with climate action?),
- loss and damage (how countries will deal with impacts of climate change that can’t be adapted to) and;
- climate finance (how much money developed countries will deliver to support developing countries achieve their climate goals).
9. Who goes to a COP?
Olly: 165 countries have signed on to the UNFCCC, and those are the parties that will be meeting. However, there will also be representatives from civil society (like WWF), industry, local and indigenous communities as well as international organisations. The UN has predicted 35,000 people will attend this year’s COP, and this includes high-level figures like US President Joe Biden, Australia’s Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Bowen, and WWF’s Director General, Marco Lambertini.
10. I’m hearing a lot about emissions targets. Where do they fit in?
Olly: The Paris Agreement, which was drafted at COP21 in Paris in 2015, requires countries to submit emissions targets every five years; these are called Nationally Determined Contributions. Australia has recently upgraded our Nationally Determined Contributions to 43% below our 2005 levels by the year 2030, and will be keen to spruik this improvement at COP.
11. What are some of the major elements of the agreements that I should know?
Olly: Obviously, the agreements are wide and complex, but some key elements worth knowing are:
- Emissions targets – as talked about above.
- Common but Differentiated Responsibility - this is a core part of the agreements and refers to the concept that while every country has a responsibility to tackle climate change, not all countries are equally responsible for it occurring in the first place. Essentially, this recognises that some countries, like Australia, have a greater historic responsibility than others and have a moral imperative to act accordingly.
- Accounting – How do we count emissions? What should we count and who should count it? Think about coal that is mined in Australia and sold to other countries… who should count the emissions for burning that coal? Australia or the purchasing country? What about emissions from the mining itself? Or the emissions from the ship that carries it to its final destination? It can get complicated!
12. How is agreement reached?
Olly: Countries have the choice to agree, abstain (i.e. not agree or disagree), or oppose. Decisions are reached by consensus, which means that any decision can only be agreed upon if no countries oppose (but note: abstaining is allowed).
13. That seems to be a high bar! Does this create problems?
Olly: Yes, it’s very difficult to get every one of 165 Countries into consensus. As a result, the climate negotiations move slowly.
14. How accountable are parties to the decisions?
Olly: This question is one for the international lawyers, but essentially the agreements made at COP are considered binding on the parties that make them. As with most questions of international law though, the consequences for failing to follow through on promises are murky.
15. How do negotiations work?
Olly: The UNFCCC is large and complex. As a result, many negotiations take place at once covering various aspects of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC. These take place in a formal negotiation setting with strict rules on engagement and process. When a country wants to speak, they raise their ‘flag’ (often just a name plate), and when they want to insert text into the agreement, it is placed into a central document in [square brackets]. As agreements are reached, these brackets are removed. Ultimately this is a slow and quite dry process.
16. Are there alliances or negotiating groups?
Olly: Yes! With 165 countries, multiple different alliances form between parties, some more formal than others and many overlapping with each other. It can get quite complicated, but the major groups are:
- G77 and China – this is a grouping of 77 developing nations and China. This group often addresses issues important to the developing world
- The European Union
- The Umbrella Group - this is the group that Australia is a part of and is made up of 12 parties including Canada, New Zealand and the United States
- Alliance of Small Island Developing States – as the name implies, this group represents small island states that are especially vulnerable to climate change
- Like Minded Group of Developing Countries – this is a subset of the G77 and represents some of the most influential developing countries, including China, India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. They are incredibly powerful when in agreement
There are also groups for different regions, and even one that is for rainforested nations!
17. What is WWF going to be doing at COP?
Olly: WWF International has a set of expectations of countries at COP27 and will be working to hold countries to account and support them to deliver on specific expectations for climate action.
18. What about WWF- Australia?
Olly: WWF-Australia will be supporting our international counterparts’ efforts, but we will also have our own agenda. We will be amplifying the voices of First Nations People from across the Pacific, who met at the inaugural Oceania’s First Voices Conference in September to call for governments to listen to First Nations People when making climate change decisions. We'll also be highlighting our partnership with the Australian Government in delivering nature-based solutions to threats caused by climate change in the Pacific, as well as demonstrating the pathways by which Australia can become a renewable energy superpower. So just a few things!
19. What is Australia looking to achieve?
Olly: Australia will be looking to demonstrate leadership on climate change, following a long period of being seen as a ‘climate laggard’. We’ve also committed to , and this will take a significant amount of negotiation.
20. What are likely to be the big issues at COP27?
Olly: At COP, the big issues are often the contentious issues. This year we’re likely to see significant questions arising around loss and damage, which we spoke about at question eight. There are big questions around who is responsible for irreparable climate damage and what compensation could look like.
Similarly, there are ongoing issues around climate finance as developed countries had promised they would deliver USD $100 billion annually by 2020 but have still not achieved this goal. There are real trust issues amongst developing countries who are relying on this finance to reach their own climate ambitions.
21. What other events occur at COP, outside of the negotiations?
Olly: With 35,000 people attending, it’s easy to wonder what everyone is doing all day. In some ways the COP is more like a trade show than a standard negotiation - organisations and businesses come to show what they are doing to tackle climate change, and to exchange information and learnings from their previous climate action plans.
22. With the world seeming increasingly unstable, do world politics impact the negotiations?
Olly: It can, and this will be the first COP since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are yet to see what the fallout from this will be. It is expected that both nations will send representatives.
Over the last 28 years, COPs have endured a number of global conflicts and still produced results, so it is hoped that climate action will remain the focus here.
23. So this will be the 27th COP… that's a lot. When will they stop hosting them?
Olly: This is actually a question that is getting increasing attention. As the Paris Agreement rules are nearing finalisation there is a question as to whether there is a need to continue to have these meetings annually, or if they should be reduced to once every two, or more, years like the Convention on Biological Diversity.
24. How is this different from the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)?
Olly: The CBD is also holding a COP this year. As they meet less often, its parties will be meeting for the 15th time - hence the name COP15. The two agreements the CBD and the UNFCCC are increasingly interlinked as we see climate change becoming recognised as a huge factor in biodiversity loss. We hope to see the impacts of climate change on nature and the need to protect biological diversity as a key pillar of climate action reflected in both agreements going forward.
25. Overall, what are you expecting to see come out of COP27?
Olly: It's always tricky to predict how a COP will play out, but we are expecting to see a robust discussion around Loss and Damage, and a potential roadmap to commitments down the line. We'd also be pleased to see increased global ambition on climate finance.
Finally, we'd like to see countries recommit to the Paris Agreement's objective of keeping warming below 2ºC and making efforts to limit it to 1.5ºC, as the latest scientific assessments do not look positive on this front.
26. Why isn’t this just done online like everything else nowadays?
Olly: Good question; it would certainly be better for the environment than flying approximately 30,000 people to Egypt. The answer is that these processes have been attempted online, but so far without much success. Some things just need to be done face-to-face, and with something as important as this they can’t take any chances!
27. Was it hard to come up with 27 points?
Olly: No, COPs are very complicated so there's a lot to talk about! But it was hard to come up with 27 that were points that are interesting... Let us know how we did!