Thirty years of climate summits: where are they? | Climate crisis

I30 years have passed since the Rio summit, when a global system was established that regularly brings countries together to try to solve the climate crisis. Here are the highlights and low points since then.


After a few years of preparation, the very first party conference took place in Berlin, setting the format for the Cops to come. It quickly became clear that countries needed a way to put into practice the goals of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – to avoid dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system – by reducing emissions. of greenhouse gases.

Delegates attend the opening session of the Rio-92 Earth Summit, June 12, 1992. Photography: Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

For the first time, a target was set for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions: the target was to reduce them by around 5% below 1990 levels, by 2012 all developed countries committing to national targets while developing countries were allowed to continue increasing their emissions.

But the US Congress would not ratify the treaty, which meant the protocol could not come into effect. The cops continued each following year, but there seemed to be no way around the central political stalemate -.

Carbon emissions have continued to rise in the past 30 years since the Rio Earth Summit – graphic


And then the Kyoto Protocol was saved from the junk heap of history by an unexpected source: Russia. He wanted to join the World Trade Organization and offered ratification of the protocol in return.

Russia’s decision in October 2004 gave the protocol the force of law. But with the United States still against the protocol, that could only have a limited impact. Eventually, most countries met the narrow terms of their Kyoto commitments, but this had little effect on global emissions, as China and the United States continued to increase their carbon output throughout the 2000s, with China overtaking the United States as the largest source of emissions.


Kevin Conrad.
Kevin Conrad. Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

With the Kyoto Protocol in force, but largely toothless, the UN realized it had to find a new way forward. Thus, Yvo de Boer, appointed Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC in 2006, proposed a roadmap that would lead to a replacement or a successor to the Kyoto Protocol that would involve all countries. The turbulent and tense meeting continued well past Friday’s deadline for the talks to end, as the US delegation – constantly in line with George W Bush’s White House – refused to agree to anything. it would be. Finally, as delegates from developing countries grew increasingly exasperated, one took the floor. Kevin Conrad of Papua New Guinea told the United States: “We ask for your leadership, we seek your leadership, but if you are unwilling to lead, please step aside.”

With that, the United States finally agreed to sign the Bali Roadmap, with the eventual goal of an emissions agreement to be signed by the end of 2009.


Hopes were high in Copenhagen that an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol could be signed by all countries, developed and developing. But as the conference approached, it became clear that a full-fledged new treaty was not going to materialize, and officials tried to calm the expectations of previous months by clarifying that Copenhagen would produce only a “declaration Politics “.

A scientist standing in front of a globe gives a speech to Cop in Copenhagen, December 15, 2009.
A scientist standing in front of a globe gives a speech to Cop in Copenhagen, December 15, 2009. Photography: Axel Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

In the event, even that proved almost impossible to achieve. The Danes lost control of the complex UNFCCC procedures and China was reluctant to sign an agreement implying that it would reduce its emissions. World leaders who flew in for the final day of the conference were greeted with scenes of chaos.

Barack Obama and other leaders finally managed to get all of the world’s major emitters, including China, to agree on greenhouse gas emissions targets for 2020. But this achievement – which marked the first time that developed and developing countries had jointly agreed to take responsibility for reducing greenhouse gases – was largely ignored by the rest of the world, which saw nothing but discord and dismay.


In Cancún, the political declaration reached in Copenhagen was finally translated into legal form, through a series of COP decisions under the UNFCCC. The Cancún agreements formalized the national targets for all countries, until 2020.


The failure to draft a new protocol or a legally binding treaty in Copenhagen revealed the fragility of the UN process. Fortunately, then-EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard had a plan to get countries to agree on a roadmap for a new treaty – the plan that ultimately led to the Paris agreement.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard in 2012.
EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard in 2012. Photograph: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

The EU faced opposition from China and India, and the talks dragged on well past their Friday deadline. But the EU did not back down and instead brought together a coalition of developed and developing countries. Isolated, China and India gave in and the world set out on the road to Paris.


The French were determined to avoid the mistakes of Copenhagen and spent the year leading up to the conference in non-stop “360 degree diplomacy”. World leaders flew in to begin with, asking their teams to come to an agreement, and some of the thorniest issues were resolved – the $100 billion promise to poor countries made in Copenhagen was reaffirmed, the National emission reduction targets were set as a non-binding annex to the illegally binding treaty, and the question of whether to set a temperature limit of 1.5C or 2C resolved by including both.

Art installation on the Eiffel Tower in Paris by artist Yann Toma drawing attention to man-made energy, December 2015.
Art installation on the Eiffel Tower in Paris by artist Yann Toma drawing attention to man-made energy, December 2015. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

The final agreement marked the first time that countries had set a global limit on temperatures that all had pledged to respect.


Extinction Rebellion activists hold a funeral for Cop26 on November 13, 2021 in Glasgow.
Extinction Rebellion activists hold a funeral for Cop26 on November 13, 2021 in Glasgow. Photography: Peter Summers/Getty Images

Delayed for a year because of the Covid pandemic, the Cop26 was always going to be a crucial Cop. The national pledges, known as NDCs, that countries made to the Paris agreement were insufficient to keep the world at 2C, so tougher targets were essential. The new science has also shown how dangerous it would be to reach 2C, so a key objective for the UK hosts – reaching an agreement that the countries would aim to limit global heating to 1.5C – has been achieved, and the countries also agreed – despite a last-minute hitch after objections from China and India – to phase out coal.

The deal was fragile – but it represented substantial progress as countries agreed to return in 2022 and every year thereafter with tougher national plans on emissions cuts.


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2022: Forward to the future and Egypt

The ink was barely dry on the Glasgow Pact when the world began to change in potentially disastrous ways to hopefully tackle the climate crisis. Rising energy and food prices mean governments face a cost of living and energy security crisis, with some threatening to respond by switching back to fossil fuels, including coal.

However, the war in Ukraine strengthens the case for renewable energy, which compares favorably to high fossil fuel prices. He also made energy and climate high-profile national security issues that should get the government’s attention.

But geopolitical shifts mean Egypt – largely sympathetic to Russia, on which it depends for grain, some fuels and tourism – will face a diplomatically tricky task.