It's the End of the COP as We Know It!

Reflections on the results of an online expert workshop series on the future of the international climate conferences

  • News 27.10.2020

With the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015 and subsequently the completion of the corresponding rulebook at COP24 in Katowice, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Chance (UNFCCC) has mostly completed the regime building process. The imminent conclusion of the regime building process represents a critical juncture for multilateral climate governance and opens a new chapter for the UNFCCC and the organisation of its annual Conference of the Parties (COP). The experts agree that it's time to shift the focus from negotiation to implementation and facilitate implementation, monitor progress and raise ambition, now.

Against this background, the German Development Institute (DIE) and the Wuppertal Institute organised a series of discussions on the future of the UN climate conferences. The online expert workshops aimed to examine how the nature of the annual meeting of the COP to the UNFCCC may be shaped in the future to make the best use of what has become a global focusing event for climate action. The online workshop series took place from 17-25 June 2020. The workshop co-chairs, the Senior Researcher Lukas Hermwille and Wolfgang Obergassel, Co-Head of the Global Climate Governance Research Unit in the Energy, Transport and Climate Policy Division at the Wuppertal Institute, and Steffen Bauer and Sander Chan from the DIE, have now summarised their reflections on the workshop results.

Four days of intense discussions over the future of "the COP" has seen much agreement among participants. There was a strong consensus that there is a need for reform, as well as opportunities to drive and to direct such reform. One recurring theme during the discussion series was the issue of effectiveness and legitimacy of both the UNFCCC regime as well as the growing importance and recognition of non-state and subnational actors. Another recurring theme was the lack of coherence between climate policy and other agendas, such as biodiversity. Overall, the discussions revealed that reforming the COPs is not only about the "architecture" of global environmental governance and regime design. It is also about "agency" – that is, how actors resolve to overcome the deeply structured and often unintended and unwanted habits that have shaped the COP as we know it.

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