Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

A History of Climate Change Negotiations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Various COPs, UNFCCC

Mains level: Progress of global climate action

China’s announcement of achieving net-zero by 2060 is a stepping stone in the fight against climate change. But it means nothing until countries share the goals they intend to follow.

Why are we reading this news?

We often get to hear that UPSC suddenly switches to basics after maneuvering over current affairs. This news is a perfect example which strikes the balance between basics and current affairs.

Climate change: A disaster in making

  • Anthropogenic climate change can be traced back to the industrial revolution.
  • The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) greenhouse gas has increased to 415 parts per million (ppm) from 280 ppm since then.
  • A global momentum, therefore, was required to get all countries on board.

Realization of climate action: Birth of UNFCCC

  • The idea led to the formation of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC, also known as ‘The Convention’) in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • The convention divided the countries on the basis of their differing commitments: Annex I and II consisted of industrialized and developed countries and Non-Annex I comprised developing countries.

Wait! You need not remember everything* in this newscard. But, have walk through the timeline; it will concretize your idea about the global climate action and the possible way forward.

A timeline

The Conference of Parties (CoP) is the supreme decision-making body at the convention and comprises states that are party to it.

COP 1:

  • At CoP1 in Berlin 1995, the Convention highlighted the shortcomings of UNFCCC — the voluntary nature of the agreement.
  • It stressed how no substantive action was taken to address the cause against climate change, which in turn put forward the need for “legally binding” actions.

COP 2:

The proposal of legally binding targets was further emphasised upon in COP2 in Geneva in 1996.

COP 3:

  • In COP3 in Kyoto in 1997, the legally binding targets were approved of by different countries. They came to be known as the Kyoto Protocol.
  • It is considered to be one of the most important steps despite its late acceptance for it paved the way for further negotiations through legally binding targets for Annex I countries and establishment of carbon markets.
  • The mechanisms proposed by Kyoto Protocol to reduce emissions included Joint Implementation, Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) and Emissions Trading.

COP 4 and COP 5:

In COP4 in 1998 and COP5 in 1999, the rulebook for implementing the Kyoto Protocol was on the process with the adoption of the Buenos Aires Plan of Action in COP4, along with continued negotiation efforts in COP5.

COP 7:

  • In COP7 in Marrakesh in 2001, the guidelines for flexible mechanisms of joint implementation, CDM markets, emissions trading was agreed upon. It came to be known as the Marrakesh Accord.
  • It was particularly important because mitigation efforts had already started and special attention was given to developing countries.
  • It asked them to build their capacities and ensuring technology transfer through least developed countries (LDC) Fund, special climate change fund (SCCF) and adaptation fund.

COP 8:

The COP8 in 2002, which was held in “New Delhi”, emphasised on adaptation measures and stressed that poverty alleviation and development were the utmost priority of developing countries.

COP 10:

  • The future course of action was discussed in COP10 in Montreal in 2005 after Russia ratified the Protocol in 2004 at COP10 in Argentina.
  • A two-track approach was formed, which included the constructive implementation of UNFCCC as well as formation an ad-hoc committee for the Kyoto Protocol.

COP 15:

  • Copenhagen COP 2009 was set by the ad-hoc working group on Kyoto protocol formed during Montreal COP 2005.
  • The group agreed to have a deal in 2009 regarding a legally binding climate regime from 2012-2020.
  • The discussions lost track when developed countries started advocating for burden-sharing with developing countries.

COP 16:

  • The disappointment of Copenhagen was turned into an opportunity in Cancun 2010, where the Copenhagen Accord was accepted.
  • It looked forward to a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol and established the Cancun Adaptation Framework.
  • For the first time, a temperature target of 2 degrees Celsius was included. The Green climate fund was formed and developed countries agreed to contribute.

COP 17:

  • Following Cancun, Durban COP 2011 took place wherein the seed of the Paris Agreement was sown.
  • The seed started sprouting in Doha COP 2012, where countries decided to avoid the gap between Kyoto and next legal climate regime.
  • So, the second regime of Kyoto was decided from 2012-2020. The third pillar of loss and damage was incorporated for the first time.

COP 20:

In COP in Lima in 2014, countries submitted their own climate ambitions in the form of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

COP 21: The Pathbreaker

  • In 2015, the Paris agreement was finally adopted and the INDCs were annexed to it.
  • It was agreed that the Paris agreement would start from 2021.
  • 2015 was known as a year of multilateral agreements because, in addition to the Paris agreement, sustainable development goals and Sendai Framework was also adopted.
  • 2015, therefore, came out to be a successful year.

Post Paris Agreement

  • The retreat of developed countries: In all these post-2020 talks, developed countries tactfully avoided their pre-2020 commitments by not ratifying the Kyoto protocol.
  • Post-Paris discussions for the finalization of the Rulebook began.
  • Most were finalised in 2018, except the market mechanism and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas which are due in COP26 in 2021.

Agenda for next COP in 2021

  • The next COP will be in 2021 in Glasgow with two sets of agendas for discussion.
  • The first will be to complete the rule-book of Paris Agreement implementation, whose two aspects regarding Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) architecture and MRV framework are yet to be completed.
  • The second will be to ensure smooth implementation of the Paris Agreement from 1st January 2021.
  • Countries are expected to revise their NDCs as the present course of activities is projected to cause an increase in temperature of 2.8-3 C rise.

The situation today: Nothing beyong big promises

  • China’s recent announcement of achieving net-zero by 2060 comes across as the stepping stone of future climate change mitigation efforts.
  • Political announcements, however, mean nothing until countries actually share the goals they intend to follow.
  • On the contrary, India is the only country whose NDCs are in line with the 2 degrees Celsius target.
  • Another substantial happening in the domain of climate change includes Joe Biden’s promise of joining the Paris Agreement; it would bring the US back to the GCF fund.

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