What’s COP25 all about?

UN Development Programme
Dec 2 · 5 min read
Solar panels in Zambia provide clean energy for health centres. ©UNDP Zambia/Karin Schermbrucker.

Government representatives, experts, youth, activists, and private sector actors from around the world are gathering this week at the annual UN climate change conference, or COP25, to work toward advancing what’s become known as the Paris Agreement.

COP25 has already made headlines globally.

Social unrest and widespread protests forced Chile to withdraw as host. Spain then offered to host, with Chile still holding the COP presidency. After such turbulence — rather like the climate crisis itself — the conference will take place in Madrid during first two weeks of December.

COP25 will take place in Madrid during first two weeks of December. ©Jorge Fernandez Sala/Unsplash

The UNFCCC and Conference of the Parties

UNFCCC, COP — what do these acronyms stand for?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC, was established in 1992 and ratified by 196 countries plus the European Union. It aims to develop cooperative strategies to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to prevent the dangerous impacts of climate change.

Windmill park on the outskirt of Nouakchott, Mauritania. © UNDP Mauritania/Freya Morales

Climate change is a complex problem requiring integrated responses. Each year, the UNFCCC meets at what’s called the Conference of the Parties or COP to negotiate a range of issues, from global reporting on national climate change efforts to how to finance such efforts. It also allows parties to share knowledge and experiences.

COP25 stands for the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC.

A refresher: COP21, the Paris Agreement, and NDCs

In 2015, at COP21 in Paris, 197 parties agreed to establish a legal instrument that would govern climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. This became known as the Paris Agreement. It includes overarching goals to keep global temperature rise below 2° C, with efforts to limit warming to 1.5 °C, and increase countries’ resilience to climate impacts. It also aims to ensure sufficient financing to achieve these targets.

Solar panels provide modern, affordable and sustainable energy to 40,000 people in Eritrea. ©UNDP Eritrea/ Elizabeth Mwaniki

To meet these goals, individual countries define exactly how they will contribute to achieving them. These contributions are known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs.

Why is COP25 so important?

Numerous scientific studies tell us we need to halve global emissions by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. This gives us less than 11 years to make transformational changes at an unprecedented scale and pace across all sectors.

Rising climate activism globally shows us that citizens are demanding action from their governments. While holding a conference may seem unimportant, COP25 can indeed make meaningful and necessary contributions to scaling up global climate action.

Numerous scientific studies tell us we need to halve global emissions by 2030 to meet the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

A core objective for COP25 is to finalise guidelines that govern the Paris Agreement, which will create a set of rules to help governments implement their NDCs and meet their targets.

Many of these guidelines were established at last year’s negotiations, COP24, where the Katowice climate package was agreed. But one significant piece of the puzzle is still missing: guidance and rules surrounding Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement

The rules for Article 6 will shape the framework for how countries can use international carbon markets to achieve their emission reduction targets. Well-designed, market-based approaches can help drive down the costs of reducing emissions and generate finance for other climate action and broader sustainable development efforts.

Well-designed, market-based approaches can help drive down the costs of reducing emissions and generate finance for other climate action and broader sustainable development efforts. ©UNDP South Sudan/Louis Fourmentin

The design of the rules, however, is fundamental to ensure that Article 6 can set higher targets and preserve the integrity of the Paris Agreement. In particular, this means “double-counting” of the same emission reductions by more than one country must be avoided.

Beyond COP25

The Paris Agreement encourages countries to submit updated and, ideally, more ambitious versions of their NDCs by COP26, the conference that will take place in 2020. Then it’s full steam ahead to ensure these plans are implemented effectively.

That’s why it is so crucial we finalise the rulebook this month at COP25 so we can begin unlocking the vast opportunities offered by shifting towards low-emission and carbon-neutral economies.

Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral, with forest protection being a core approach, to meet its NDCs. ©soja8192/Shutterstock.com

Call to action

Just since the 2015 Paris Agreement was ratified, scientists have sent increasingly urgent messages that we must raise our ambitions if we are to avoid a full-blown climate catastrophe. As indicated in a recent report on what a world with 1.5° C warming would look like, the data now show we must cut emissions in half by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

The Heat is On, a new report by UNDP and UNFCCC, found 75 countries representing 37 percent of global emission intend to update their NDCs by 2020. UNDP’s Climate Action Promise pledges to support more than 100 countries in doing this and enhancing their NDCs by 2020. This is encouraging.

UNDP’s Climate Action Promise pledges to support more than 100 countries in expanding their NDCs by 2020. ©UNDP Peru/Monica Suárez Galindo

At the end of 2019, you can see governments, civil society, and industry virtually everywhere acting on the unprecedented signals our planet is sending about the drastic changes needed right now. So far, 77 countries have pledged to go carbon-neutral by 2050.

Progress at COP25 is vital to facilitate this ambitious action. It will also signal to the world that working together is the only way we can tackle climate change.

UNDP at COP25

Find out more about UNDP’s engagements at COP25 here.

UN Development Programme

Written by

Transforming our world #By2030. Visit us at www.undp.org

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