Climate Summit jamborees might need a good cleanup

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In the world of climate change, one summit rules them all: the COP. The annual meeting of the United Nations, or “Conference of the Parties” to the Climate Change Convention, is unlike any other.

An alien staring from space on a COP could be disconcerting at the sight of 20,000 humans swarming around a giant conference center, some crammed into negotiation rooms, others giving speeches in cavernous rooms, others hosting parties. demonstrations and a handful even singing and dancing.

The modern COP has evolved into a grand jamboree, a combination of heavy UN formality and some madness (think militants in costumes, vegan sushi, drum circles, and elaborate protest stunts). But what is a COP really? What is his goal? Presumably, this is a world summit to avoid catastrophic climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible.

But the nature of COP summits has changed a lot since they began in 1995. Meetings have grown – from around 4,000 delegates at the first COP in Berlin to a peak of almost 30,000 in Berlin. Paris in 2015.

What began as a small technical negotiation has acquired activism and political theater. With the UK hosting the 26th COP this fall – already delayed a year by the pandemic – it’s a good time to consider whether the world still needs this mega-COP format.

As Covid-19 continues, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to hold a normal COP, regardless of the safeguards put in place by the organizers. (See how preparations for the Tokyo Olympics are going.) UK hosts for COP26 plan to hold it in Glasgow in November, on a scale as close to normal as antivirus security protocols allow.

Even before the pandemic, a conversation was going on at the UN about the size of the COP. “Sometimes we all have to take a good look at ourselves in the mirror. And I think [this] process will have to do this too, ” Marianne Karlsensaid in March the chair of a United Nations group, the Subsidiary Body for Implementation, which oversees the implementation of the Paris climate agreement.

Karlsen, a Norwegian climate negotiator, pointed to the over-time negotiations and the rapid growth in attendance over the years. “We need to ask ourselves a key question: can we do more with less?”

A recent report concludes that a much smaller COP, focused on technical negotiations, could be almost as effective. The disadvantages of the current system include the expense (which can go up to over $ 100 million for host countries) as well as the shows of so many people arriving to attend. The report, funded in part by the German government and produced by Oxford Climate Policy, recommends separating formal COP negotiations from the “jamboree” of climate action, which can take place at different times and places.

Principal author Benito muller, from Oxford Climate Policy, argues that bringing the COP back to basics would allow negotiators to do their jobs better. “I really thought, how much do we need this traveling circus?” he said. “The circus has experienced rather anarchic growth. Whenever there was something new, we added it to the bargaining sessions. “

A change makes sense because, with the Paris climate agreement already in place, future COP summits will exist primarily to monitor the deal. supporters of the current format argue that building political momentum and supporting climate commitments is an essential part of the COP. But unlike in previous years, future COPs will not be tasked with negotiating a global treaty, which required a lot of political involvement.

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This change is already visible. Over the past year, the world’s largest emitters, such as the United States, China and the EU, have made big promises as they strive to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement, although no COP took place during this period. Several climate summits have produced new environmental commitments from countries and companies.

All of this poses a challenge for the Glasgow summit in November, as most of the headline promises will come out long before COP26 even begins. But it could also make it easier to experiment with different formats, especially if Covid-19 makes the full jamboree impossible.

Even a smaller COP would still be important, not least because the format allows every country, no matter how small, to be heard on an equal footing. But just as Covid-19 has forced an account for many aspects of modern life, it’s time for that same reassessment to take place for COP. As long as the rest of the world can keep up with the pace of climate action, maybe the drums don’t need to be inside the negotiating venue itself.

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