In 1992 world leaders (mostly men) convened in Rio de Janeiro for the United Nations Earth Summit.
They signed the first major treaty on global warming, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC requires annual meetings of the countries that have signed the treaty. Each is known as a ‘Conference of the Parties’ (COP).
In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol was signed enshrining the first agreed legal cuts to greenhouse gas emissions under a principal of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – rich countries agreed legal targets and poorer nations like China and India were exempt. The Kyoto Protocol was due to run until 2012.
World leaders tried and failed to negotiate a replacement for the protocol in Copenhagen in 2009. However in 2015 the ‘Paris Treaty’ was signed acknowledging that 1.5 degrees of warming, not 2 degrees, was the preferred limit of global warming, and inviting all countries to make emissions cuts pledges.
Some countries, most notably the USA, have sought to derail the UNFCCC. Historically the UK has negotiated as part of the EU. Due to Brexit this will change by 2020, when the UK hosts the COP for the first time, in Glasgow.
At the 2020 COP in Glasgow there will be two weeks of formal negotiations between the government delegates. The meeting will be the first COP to take place after pledges made under the Paris treaty have ‘kicked-in’, and will assess whether the goal of rich countries giving $100 bn a year for climate adaptation and compensation for loss and damage has been reached.
There will be fringe meetings inside the event organised by delegations from governmental departments and non-governmental organisations, including environmental organisations.
Thousands of representatives of civil society organisations from across the world will stage stunts, protests and possibly direct action to draw attention to what is, or what should be happening inside the COP. The unofficial fringe of the COP, mostly taking place outside formal UN spaces, has often functioned as the global annual meeting of the climate movement.
Fossil fuel companies and other corporate lobbyists will also be well represented inside and outside the COP.
— Conflicts of Interest at COP (@ConflictsAtCOP) December 14, 2018
The impact of corporate lobbying on international bodies has been well documented. A recent report shows that over three quarters of external groups that the EU commission meet about climate represented the energy industry, and of those, the vast majority represented fossil fuel interests instead of renewable energy.
So fossil fuel companies and their friends will look to use the UN COP to advance their interests.
The good news is we can do this too. Over the past twenty years the climate movement had great success using the momentum and public scrutiny the COP brings to win climate campaigns.
In 2008 the UK Climate Change Act was passed with cross-party support in part so the UK had a serious contribution of leadership to offer at the crucial 2009 Copenhagen Summit.
In 2015 French groups won divestment commitments from major banks Credit Agricole, BNP Paribas and Societe General to exit coal financing for the Paris COP.
In 2017 the UN met in Bonn and German group Ende Gelande invaded a nearby mega-coal mine (pictured), whose expansion threatened a forest. In 2018 the forest was saved.
For the 2018 COP in Katowice, Poland, global civil society agreed ‘The People’s Demands’ (we could do this for Glasgow too!), that stated:
To: Government representatives to the 24th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP24) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
We urge you to stand with people across the world — not Big Polluters — and immediately take steps to address the climate crisis.
Climate change is the crisis of our time. This December at COP24, you will lay out the rules to implement the Paris Agreement, policies that will affect the lives of billions of people.
The urgency of the climate crisis requires a just response centered on human rights, equity, and justice. We demand you:
Keep fossil fuels in the ground.
Reject false solutions that are displacing real, people-first solutions to the climate crisis.
Advance real solutions that are just, feasible, and essential.
Honor climate finance obligations to developing countries.
End corporate interference in and capture of the climate talks.
Ensure developed countries honor their “Fair Shares” for largely fueling this crisis.
The COP26 Coalition has begun to take shape prior to the 2020 COP, incorporating representatives of the UK climate movement at a grassroots level as well as funded groups. The meetings brought together activists from different parts of the country to discuss what we could achieve together and what might happen at the COP itself. Activists in Glasgow are also preparing to run their own campaigns to ‘kick fossil fuels out of the COP’.