The Conference of Parties


The Conference of Parties on global climate change in Paris (COP21, which will begin on November 30 until December 11) will be for sure one of the most meaningful events of this period: there are many chances that a legally binding agreement on climate change will be signed.


The COPs or also called UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) are yearly treaties born with the purpose of limiting the increase in global temperatures to 2°C. Since the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, they set no mandatory limits on emissions for the acceding countries. However, attendees settled some forecasts, called “protocols”, that would place mandatory limits: the most famous is the 1997 Kyoto protocol in the COP3. The aim was to “stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.


These treaties found several difficulties of implementation from the outset, especially because of the sharp contrast between industrialized and developing countries in terms of relevant measures to be taken for each country. For instance, Copenaghen Summit in 2009 (COP15) was an unpleasant failure due to many objections raised by a handful of countries against the richest ones, considered guilty of not respecting cuts to emissions. The main debate, that is still ongoing, was based on a consideration of “fairness in pollution”, summarized in the following question: why could some countries grow economically and pollute for years without any bond, while others not yet industrialized will be subject to this binding constraint on emissions and therefore on economic development? Or differently, why should countries like India and China reduce emissions like the US, which has polluted for a long time without “paying” their price for pollution? According to developing countries, not only the level of pollution but also the degree of modernization of a country should be taken into account in order to balance the responsibility and reach some sort of sustainable and inclusive growth. Despite all, some significant steps have been made. Fo

Source: World Bank

r example, at COP17 in Durban the Green Climate Fun has been established to finance the transition to their economies to low CO2 emissions, with particular regard to the nonindustrialized ones. Among other solutions to reach a global agreement in Paris, the UNFCCC has adopted a different strategy to empower the parties: each country must submit a plan to reduce GHGs before the meeting, and during the COP21 will be discussed and ratified. Although some commitments are not impressive, the total amount of reductions of the 150 countries covers 90% of global emissions. Only 45 small countries are missing for the moment.


The two graphs give a quick and easy representation of the CO2 emission allowances in 2011 and their volume trends. It is interesting to report that energy and transportation sectors are responsible for nearly 75% of the total emissions.

Source: World Bank


As suggested by Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the positive aspect of the next round is that the two most polluting countries, China and the USA, have prepared their voluntary commitments to cut ahead of the conference. Of crucial importance will be agreements on investment in renewable and energy efficiency to break the link between economic growth and consumption of fossil fuels. Furthermore, calling for the commitment from the bottom instead of imposing restrictions from above (top-down method) will certainly be a decisive approach in the global challenge. The final word will be given on December 11, but currently the world seems ready to change the direction of the curve of pollution.

Stefano Olivari



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