What happens at a climate conference?

At a climate conference, politicians from many different countries come together to work out solutions and reach agreements to limit the increase in global warming. In 1992, the first climate conference took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with the participation of the member states of the United Nations.

The actual climate summit, which usually takes place in December or November, is preceded by many preparatory meetings and climate conferences throughout the year. For example, the UN Climate Change Conference or the International Conference on Climate Action (ICCA). There, climate protection is discussed and the big climate summit in December is planned down to the smallest detail. The climate summit, the Conference of Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, has become a major event with over 20,000 participants.

The UN climate conferences are shaped by various actors. On the one hand, there are the government representatives of the 193 signatory states, numerous journalists, but also observers from various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These NGOs represent scientists, youth movements, environmental organisations, business lobbyists and trade unions. They all have an advisory vote, but no decision-making powers.

In terms of content, the UN climate conferences are supported primarily by two institutions. The results of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change serve as the basis for decisions at the conferences. This is a scientific body of the UN which, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), does not conduct its own research, but evaluates and sorts numerous findings on climate change. The UN Climate Secretariat is responsible for the organisation and agendas of the climate summits. It also collects data on the climate balance of individual countries.

The first major global climate agreement was adopted in 1997 at the COP3 climate summit in Kyoto, Japan. In it, 37 industrialised countries pledged to reduce their annual greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2 percent compared to 1990 levels. Since the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2020, a new agreement has been worked on in recent years. In 2015, the Paris Agreement was adopted, in which the countries agreed at the COP21 climate summit to limit global warming to a maximum of two degrees, or better 1.5 degrees, compared to pre-industrial levels. To achieve this, every country must set itself climate protection targets every five years, improve them and comply with them.

The climate summit is criticised above all for the immense effort involved. Critics see this as disproportionate to what they see as the very limited results. This is also due to the fact that all decisions must be taken unanimously, i.e. all signatory states of the Framework Convention on Climate Change must agree to a decision. In the past, for example in Copenhagen in 2009, no binding decisions could be made. And yet many are convinced that the climate conferences serve an important purpose, even if a solution cannot be found every time. For in this way, attention is drawn to the ills of the world on an international level and awareness is raised that the climate crisis needs global solutions.


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