How is the global community responding to climate change? The UNFCCC

Panel session at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties in Madrid. Image: Anglican Alliance / Elizabeth Perry

Most of the world’s countries are member parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change: UNFCCC.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the decision-making body of the UNFCCC. All States that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP, which happens annually, each time in a different location.

COP21, in 2015, saw the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the landmark agreement to combat climate change to which almost every country is the world has signed up.

COP26 held 6 years later (delayed by one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic) was a key milestone, when all nations were meant to significantly increase their ambition for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. COP26 saw the publication of The Glasgow Pact, which claimed “1.5C remains in sight, but it will only be achieved if every country delivers on what they have pledged” and finalised the Paris Rulebook (the operational details for the practical implementation of the Paris Agreement). There were other good outcomes to COP26 including a pledge by leaders of 120 countries to halt and reverse deforestation by 2030, a methane reduction pledge made by over 100 countries, the creation of a Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance, and the launch of an initiative, signed by 39 countries and organisations, directing their international public support towards the clean energy transition and away from the fossil fuel sector.

However, despite these good outcomes, nowhere near enough was done by negotiators. Less than a year later, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the the goal of keeping the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was “on life support” and in frank exchanges with world leaders called on them to do more.

His warning came in the wake of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which  Mr Guterres described as “a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:  greenhouse gas emissions from fossil-fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.  Global heating is affecting every region on Earth, with many of the changes becoming irreversible.”

The most recent COP, COP27, was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. One of the key outcomes was the establishment of a Loss and Damage fund for vulnerable countries. Despite all the scientific evidence – and the realities on the ground such as the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan shortly before COP27 – attempts to get a commitment to phase down (not out) all fossil fuels (not just coal – as agreed in Glasgow the previous year) – failed.


Pilgrimage to Paris ahead of COP21. Image: John Leston.