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What is the purpose of COP ?

Since 1995, it's THE world's biggest environmental event. Quick dive into this complex and decisive summit.

Each year, a new "COP" brings together in actual fact all the countries in the world to collectively decide what we are prepared to do to try and save life on our planet. Suffice to say, our whole future is at stake…

What is the purpose of a "COP"?

Let's start with the name, which is an acronym: "COP" means Conference of parties".

The parties, in this case, are countries. In concrete terms, this is an international summit where states meet to discuss an issue (in this case, climate change) and decide together on shared objectives to achieve.

The COPs, organised under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, were invented in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. They bring together 196 states, taking place every year (in November or December). The very first, COP 1, took place in Berlin in 1995. During these summits, which each time change cities, countries negotiate a roadmap and make commitments to fight climate change.

Note that we are referring to COPs on the climate here, with there being two other versions: the COPs on biodiversity and the COPs on combating desertification both linked to UN conventions also signed in 1992 in Rio.

Who participates in COP?

There a lot of people, its very busy! One edition can bring together up to 40,000 people. The main actors are the national delegations: the teams of negotiators that each country sends. They are the ones who will lead the debates, and upon whom the summits' final results depend.But they are not alone.A whole ecosystem is put in place during COPs, with a whole host of actors, exchanging with each other, defending their interests (or the greater good) and attempting to weigh in on the outcome of discussions. 

They include: NGOs; companies; unions; representatives of indigenous people; journalists; scientists; etc. And finally, citizens: you and I, can in actual fact attend COPs, where areas dedicated to the general public provide spaces for exhibitions, debates and workshops centred around climate change. These public spaces are managed by host countries, while the "pro" areas are administered by the UN.

What the objectives of a COP?

The great challenge of the climate COPs is to agree on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to human activities and on the measures to be taken to limit global warming. Therefore, we are talking about negotiations based on numbers: how much CO2 we are releasing into the atmosphere and by how many degrees we allow the planet to warm up. .
Negotiators use as a working basis the much talked about IPCC, reports, a sort of climate change 'bible', which compile all current scientific knowledge

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What is hoped will be achieved?

OK… COPs rarely deliver major shifts in how to combat climate change. Getting 196 countries to reach agreement is indeed no mean feet. The system of compromise involves making progress with (very) small steps. Nevertheless, several COPs have made history:
- COP 3: in Japan, in 1997, the third COP climate edition resulted in the renowned Kyoto Protocol. A legally binding text is adopted for the first time. It states that the 55 most industrialised countries (and therefore the most polluting) will have to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 5% between 2008 and 2012, relative to 1990 emission levels.

- COP 15: in Denmark, in 2009, the 15th COP in history remains etched in people's memories as a disgrace… After interminable negotiations, when they should have been updating the Kyoto protocol's objectives, states were not prepared to agree and set new targets.As a result: a basic 3-page declaration of intent, and a bitter failure.

- COP 21: in France, in 2015, COP21 ended with the signature of the Paris agreement. It's the first legally binding international treaty on climate change, uniting (virtually) all the countries in the world. Ratified by 192 parties, it aims to keep global warming well below 2°C compared to the pre-industrial era.

- COP 11 biodiversity led to the creation of the IPBES, a group of scientific experts mandated by the UN (a biodiversity version of the IPCC).

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Let's summarise.

At a COP, scientists indicate possible trajectories.

Governments are there to identify the trajectories they wish to pursue.

Companies use these trajectories to work on their own.

The success of the COPs depends to a large extent on the ability of states to take action to activate important levers. As for the future of the climate, it depends on the COPs (to a certain extent) but also on us, the companies, to change certain practices (we think about circular economy, the fact to encourage rental, second life, etc.).

It also depends on each citizen, who holds the power every time he or she decides to consume (or not) a product.

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