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27 October 2021

Blog: COP in a nutshell

Yanqing Wang, PhD Student in Banking & Finance

Before COP-26 commences, Yanqing Wang looks back at historical COPs and also to consider what to look out for in COP-26.

Melting Icebergs in an ocean.
Image courtesy of Guillaume Falco//Pexels.

As a result of COVID-19, COP-26, originally planned to take place in 2020, was postponed to 2021. The summit will now take place in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November, hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy. Before COP-26 commences, I think it is a good idea to briefly look back at historical COPs and also to consider what to look out for in COP-26.

What is COP?

On an annual basis, the Conference of the Parties (COP) meets via a summit, with heads of state, experts and campaigners coming together to discuss various key climate-change problems and working together to tackle these global challenges. COP comprises countries that have signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty, which came into effect in 1994.

Historical COPs: any highlights?

There have been many key milestone moments since 1994, such as the COP-3 Kyoto Protocol in 1998, the COP-15 Copenhagen Accord in 2009, and the COP-21 Paris Agreement in 2015. For example, the COP-15 Copenhagen Accord moved away from the Kyoto Protocol’s top-down structure and reconsidered the different treatment of Annex I (industrialised countries and economies in transition) and non-Annex I countries (developing countries, where developed countries that pay the costs of developing countries). That is to say, the COP-15 Copenhagen Accord succeeded in laying the groundwork for a new approach (a pledge-and-review system) later seen in the Paris Agreement.

COP-21 Paris Agreement: What is it and why does it matter?

Many people, including myself, consider the COP-21 Paris Agreement to be “a monumental triumph for people and our planet” that encourages collective mitigation efforts (over 190 countries signed up to this agreement in 2015). The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change; it also provides a framework around financial, technical and climate-related capacity-building to support delivering its long-term emission goal to limit global warming to below 2°C (preferably to 1.5°C) compared to pre-industrial levels.

The Agreement recognises that there are different starting points, capabilities and responsibilities among countries. The bottom-up approach proposed in the Paris Agreement is different from the top-down approach used in the Kyoto Protocol. As a result, all parties that have adopted the Agreement are allowed to voluntarily establish their nationally determined greenhouse-gas-emission reductions on a regular basis.

However, some concerns have been raised about the lack of a specific timetable and uncertainty over the future use of carbon sinks to remove CO2 from the air.

COP-26: What will be the focus and why is it important?

A few months ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark report, whereby 234 authors internationally reviewed 14,000 scientific papers. One key message is that active, ambitious and strong nationally determined contribution (NDCs) pledges are needed to stop the irreversible climate crisis. Climate activists consider the COP-26 climate summit to represent the last chance to slow global warning through strong actions and demanding discussions on climate justice. With this in mind, I look forward to seeing what decisions are made during COP-26 and their implications for the wider UN Sustainable Development Goals.

As a part-time banking and finance PhD student who has recently joined King’s Business School, I feel proud to be part of a school that is playing an active role in climate change and sustainability through education, research and communication. I would like to end this blog with a quotation from the Executive Dean of King’s Business School, Professor Stephen Bach:

King’s Vision is to make the world a better place. We see supporting society’s growing expectation that companies become more ethical, inclusive and sustainable as central to that effort… As a Business School, we have an important part to play. Finding solutions to the world’s grand challenges – from climate change to inequality – requires rigorous, boundary-breaking research and strong links with business and policy-makers to put that insight into practice. The education we provide must develop responsible leaders who, in both the private and public sectors, will help to further the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Stephen Bach, Executive Dean of King’s Business School

In this story

Yanqing Wang

PhD Student in Banking & Finance