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COP21: A Beginner’s Guide

by: Norhan Awadallah, Shannon Kindornay and Aniket Bhushan 

Published: November 23, 2015 

This post provides a quick overview of essentials for understanding COP21 centered on the following areas: what is COP? What are the financial mechanisms linked to the work of the COP (and UNFCCC)? What are Canada’s contributions to global climate finance? What was agreed to at previous COPs? What are the issues at play in COP21 and what success may look like for the Paris Climate Alliance?

What is COP?

Beginning in 1995, the Conference(s) of the Parties (COPs) are annual conferences held within the context of implementing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC, COPs are formal meetings held to assess progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the Convention – “to [stabilize] greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” All UNFCCC Party States are represented at COP, where they assess the effects of measures taken by Parties, and review the implementation processes and legal instruments of the Convention. The agendas of the COP meetings are wide-ranging, reflecting the programme of work under the UNFCCC.

COPs deal with:

  • Organizational matters;
  • Reports from subsidiary bodies, including the Financial Mechanisms and the Executive Secretary;
  • Priority issues for review and guidance; and
  • Other matters.

Some of the key tasks of the COP include (but are not limited to):

  • Take necessary decisions to promote effective implementation of the UNFCCC;
  • Review the national communications and emission inventories submitted by Parties;
  • Assess effects of measures taken by Parties; and
  • Assess progress made in achieving the objective of the Convention.

What are the Financial Mechanisms?

To facilitate implementation in developing country Parties to the Convention, Financial Mechanisms of the UNFCCC include the provision of grant and concessional financial resources, as well as technology transfer. The Financial Mechanisms are administered by two stand-alone multilateral bodies – the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

Established in 1991, the GEF administers the Financial Mechanisms for a number of UN climate and environment-related conventions. Under the UNFCCC, GEF is responsible for the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Special Climate Change Fund. Working with 18 implementing partners, the GEF provided USD 14.5 billion in grants since its inception, and has mobilized USD 75 billion in additional financing for almost 4,000 projects.

The GCF, formally established in 2011, engages directly with the public and private sectors, and is responsible for supporting international, regional, national, and subnational levels climate-sensitive investments. Under the Fund, a minimum of 50% of adaptation financing is allocated to particularly vulnerable countries. Advanced economies have formally agreed to jointly mobilize USD 100 billion per year for the Fund by 2020. As of November 2, 2015, USD 10.2 billion has been announced.

Summary of the main UNFCCC Financial Mechanisms:

Fast Start Finance (FSF):

  • In 2009 at COP19, developed countries pledged to provide new and additional resources approaching USD 30 billion for 2010 – 2012, with balanced allocation between mitigation and adaptation

Long Term Finance (LTF)

  • The work programme on LTF concluded at COP19.
  • COP19 also requested developed country Parties to prepare biennial submissions on their updated strategies and approaches for scaling up climate finance from 2014 to 2020.

Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF)

  • Established in 2001, the SCCF finances projects related to: adaptation; technology transfer and capacity building; energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management; and economic diversification.

Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF)

Adaptation Fund (AF)

  • Established in 2001, AF finances concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Standing Committee on Finance (SCF)

  • Agreed to at COP16 in 2010, the SCF assists the COP in exercising its functions with respect to the Financial Mechanism by supporting coherence and coordination across Financial Mechanisms as well as supporting measurement, reporting and verification, inter alia.

Canada’s contributions to global climate finance

  • Fast Start Finance (FSF) (2010): C$1,200 (according to Canada’s submission to UNFCC post Copenhagen. Note: over 3 fiscal years 2010-11 to 2012-13 with new contribution in 2013)

Update: On November 27, 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Canada will contribute $2.65 billion over the next five years to help developing countries combat climate change. C$30 million (approx. $22.4 million) of that contribution would be to meet urgent and immediate adaptation needs of the poorest and most vulnerable countries through the LDCF. To put into perspective, Canada’s is the fourth largest LDCF commitment announced at Paris behind Germany, the US, UK and France. It amounts to about 9% of new LDCF commitments announced by rich countries to the poorest countries.

What was agreed to at previous COPs?

To date, there have been 20 COP meetings from 1995 to 2014. One of the most significant outcomes of the COP meetings is the creation of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Kyoto Protocol outlined the greenhouse gas emissions reduction obligation for Annex I countries – which include industrialized OECD country members in 1992, plus countries with economies in transition. Along with the Protocol came Kyoto implementation mechanisms such as emissions trading, the clean development mechanism, and joint implementation. Following Conferences have focussed on the Kyoto Protocol.

Below is a timeline outlining the most important decisions of previous COP meetings. For a full time of all UNFCCC meetings click here.

  • 1995 – COP1, Berlin – First COP takes place
  • 1996 – COP2, Geneva – The UNFCCC Secretariat is set up to support action under the Convention
  • 1997 – COP3, Kyoto – The Kyoto Protocol is formally adopted
  • 2001 – COP7, Marrakesh – Adoption of the Marrakesh Accords detailing implementation rules, new funding, and more of the Kyoto Protocol
  • 2005 – COP11, Montreal – The first Meeting of the Parties (CMP1); marked the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol; created the Montreal Action Plan, extending the expiration date and negotiating deeper greenhouse emission cuts
  • 2007 – COP13, Bali – Creation of the Bali Road Map, which charted the way towards a post-2012 outcome
  • 2009 – COP15, Copenhagen –  Copenhagen Accord drafted
  • 2011 – COP17, Durban – Establishment of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action
  • 2012 – COP18, Doha – Doha Amendment to the Kyoto Protocol is adopted

What is COP21?

The establishment of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) in 2011 reflected the willingness of Parties to act together. The desire to bring all countries – developed and developing – to advance another legal instrument and an agreed outcome applicable to all UNFCCC Parties has been a key focus since. A new agreement is to be adopted in 2015 and implemented from 2020. The COPs in Warsaw (2013) and Lima (2014) enabled progress towards COP21, as all States were invited to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions before COP21.

The main goal of the COP21 meeting is the creation of a “Paris Climate Alliance” to reach a new universal international agreement on climate change. The agreement is to be:

  • Universal – that is, agreed by and applicable to all countries;
  • Ambitious – aimed at keeping global warming below 2°C (36.5°F) compared to pre-industrial levels, thus transitioning countries to a low-carbon economy;
  • Flexible – taking into account the needs and capabilities of each country, including LDCs and small island States;
  • Balanced – in terms of adaptation and mitigation, and providing for proper financial means and sources to support implementation, enable access to technologies, and build capacity;
  • Long-lasting – with ambitions revised upward at regular intervals and to ensure implementation processes are moving accordingly.

What does success look like for the Paris Climate Alliance?

There are four components to the Paris Climate Alliance.

  • First, the negotiation of a universal agreement must be in accordance with the Durban mandate while establishing the rules and mechanisms of global warming reduction.
  • Second, the presentation by countries of their national contributions prior to COP21 to ensure/demonstrate that states are moving forward, based on their national realities.
  • Third, financial support to developing countries during their transition towards a low-carbon, resilient economy. Financial support is to be provided before and after 2020.
  • Fourth, and finally, strengthened commitments by civil society, non-governmental stakeholders, and the multi-partner initiatives of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, which brought together state and non-state actors to accelerate cooperation on climate action. High level commitment by all stakeholders across sectors is seen as critical to initiating and supporting concrete actions prior to the entry into force of prospective COP21 agreements in 2020.

This article was updated on November 27 and 30, 2015 following new developments in Canada’s contribution to climate financing.

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