What is the COP27 UN climate conference and why does it matter?

London — The scientific community and the majority of the world’s political leaders agree that climate change is one of the greatest threats to life on this planet, and the effects are it is already visible and felt around the world in the form of droughts, more frequent and more severe storms, rampant floods, heat waves and forest fires.

While there is no doubt that the problem can only be tackled through international cooperation, it can be difficult to keep track of global efforts to do so. Every year there is a major world event that seeks to put it all in one place.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the world’s biggest climate conference, COP27, before it kicks off this weekend in Egypt.

What is “COP”?

COP stands for “conference of the parties”. It happens every year, and this is the 27th time it has been held. It is a meeting of the governments that have signed the major climate change agreements in the world: the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol or the Paris Agreement.

The gathering is hosted by a different country each year and this year will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to 18. It will be an opportunity for signatory nations to discuss everything from steps they are taking to adapt to the effects of climate change to financing climate action.

But this year’s gathering is also seen by many as a critical test of whether the global community can or will do enough to prevent the worst predicted outcomes of climate change.

A critical test for climate action

Under the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement, the first legally binding international climate change treaty, 194 countries committed to the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius — and ideally below 1 .5 degrees Celsius — compared to pre-industrial levels.

Under the treaty, each country decides for itself how much it will reduce its emissions each year to meet this goal. Every five years, these goals are revised and become more ambitious. this is called a “ratchet mechanism”.

COP26held in Glasgow in 2021, was the first test of the ratchet mechanism and the results it was not very promising. The targets submitted by governments for that conference were insufficient to limit global warming to the desired levels. Countries were therefore asked to review their targets ahead of COP27.

According to a UN report released in October, just weeks before COP27, policies currently in place put the world on track to warm 2.8 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and there is currently “No reliable path” with the aim of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

“We are still nowhere near the scale and pace of emissions reductions needed to put us on a trajectory toward a 1.5 degree Celsius world,” Simon Stiell, the UN’s executive secretary for climate change, said in October. “To keep this goal alive, national governments must strengthen their climate action plans now and implement them over the next eight years.”

Who will go to COP27?

President Biden, along with US climate envoy John Kerry, will attend the conference, along with at least 90 other heads of state.

Britain’s King Charles III, who devoted huge attention to environmental causes before inheriting the throne, will not attend, Buckingham Palace has confirmed. The UK’s new prime minister, Rishi Sunak, initially said he would not be able to attend because of economic turmoil at home, but there were reports he was reconsidering after it emerged that Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, might go.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg said she would not go to the conference this year, dismissing the world summit as a forum for “greenwashing”.

“As it is, COPs don’t really work, unless of course we use them as a mobilizing opportunity,” Thunberg said.

Thunberg said Monday that she also believed the space for activists at the convention was limited and wanted to leave room for other advocates to attend.

“Pledges to net zero are worth zero without the plans, policies and actions to support it,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ahead of the conference. “Our world can’t take any more greenwashing, bogus transport or delayed transport. We must close the emissions gap before climate disaster closes on us all.”

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