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What is COP 25? Why is it blue? We have answers

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By Jennifer Allan, Vanessa Farquharson, November 23, 2019

Forget what COP stands for? Not sure what, exactly, happens at these events? Can't figure out why it's being called the "Blue COP"? We asked Reporting Services expert Dr. Jennifer Allan, a regular COP participant and host of IISD's upcoming COP 25 halftime show, to give us some straight answers.

What is a COP? What happens at these events, other than lots of talking?

COP stands for “Conference of Parties”; in this case, the parties are coming from around the world, on an annual basis, to meet in person and, yes, talk about stuff. To borrow an analogy, the COP is like a coral reef for the climate community. It’s where (and when) civil society, governments, international organizations, businesses, bankers and many others working on climate policy and science get together to talk about solutions. Some of those talks are negotiations; most of the ones at COP 25 will be aimed at readying countries to implement the Paris Agreement, but there will be other important work being done outside the negotiations, particularly at side events.

Right, got it. Um… remind me, what is the Paris Agreement?

In December 2015, 192 countries committed to a climate change agreement that is dynamic, durable and applicable to all countries. Since then, 181 countries have ratified the agreement, although in 2017 the United States expressed its intention to withdraw from the agreement after a three-year notice period. At the heart of the Paris Agreement is a commitment by countries to submit Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), setting out their national targets for reducing greenhouse gases and, in some cases, plans for adapting to the impacts of climate change and providing finance and other support to developing countries. These pledges are the foundation of the agreement. They are to be resubmitted to the United Nations every five years, and each must be more ambitious than the last.

OK. So how is this different from the UN General Assembly and UN Climate Summit that just happened in New York?

The UN General Assembly and the Climate Summit were about ambition: what countries were pledging to do for the climate. These forums were meant for high-level discussions and aimed at getting high-level buy-in for climate action. The COP is about the actual governance: setting rules, reviewing countries’ reports on their efforts and coordinating the actions of all the bodies working under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Is there anything that makes COP 25 special or different from previous COPs?

This COP can be seen as a stepping stone on the way to the official 2020 start date for the Paris Agreement. There is one major deadline: to finalize the market mechanism and other such “cooperative approaches” for the Paris Agreement. This step is vital to help countries implement the Paris Agreement when it begins next year. The COP is also about increasing momentum for greater climate action. There is widespread understanding that we need to do more to reduce emissions and build resilience, but countries have yet to formalize this understanding into new NDCs. Next year is the deadline for countries to submit new, more ambitious NDCs.

Does this party have a theme? Some are calling it the "Blue COP"—what does that mean?

Blue COP is a way to convey the close links between the health of the climate and the health of the ocean. The recent Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere in a Changing Climate by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) outlined the impacts of climate change on the ocean and the resulting implications for low-lying areas and coastal communities.

There’s been much talk of Article 6. What is this, and why does it matter?

Article 6 is complicated and has a long history, appearing in various forms in the negotiations since 2011 (at least). It has three parts: internationally transferred mitigation outcomes, a market mechanism and a non-market mechanism. Internationally transferred mitigation outcomes are a mechanism for developed countries to support other countries in reducing emissions, then applying the resulting credits to its own emission reduction targets. The Article 6 negotiations are the last piece of the Paris Agreement rule book. Last year, in Katowice, parties agreed to all the operational elements in the Katowice Climate Package that allow countries to have a common interpretation and implementation of the agreement’s provisions, from reporting to the global stocktake. Article 6 will complete that set of operational rules, readying the agreement for full implementation.

What can we look forward to in your COP 25 Halfway Point Webinar?

The ministers and other high-level officials arrive in the second week. Therefore, the halfway point is a good time to take stock of the progress made and look ahead to what issues will require high-level political guidance. I’ll provide a quick update on what has been agreed (or is nearing agreement) and what work remains for the second week. I’ll try to cover any major announcements made during the first week, particularly new funding announcements. Of course, I’ll be happy to answer your questions!

Lastly, are there good COPs and bad COPs?

Each COP has a particular role in the overall process: some are tasked with delivering major outcomes and others with finalizing details. What is constant is the need to maintain an inclusive, transparent process: all countries need to be involved in order to accept the final outcome. The new test will be how to use the unique forum of a COP to mobilize climate ambition. We may not know if the Chile/Madrid COP was a “good COP” until later in 2020 when we see the extent and ambition of new NDCs.