This holiday season: sports, politics and COP25

A guide to dinner table climate change talk


By Elenore Breslow and Jonathan Abbruzzese

As families and friends come together for the holiday season, the usual partisan (and generally benign) debates about sports and politics will fill dining and living rooms across the country. Perhaps one more topic will make the list this year — climate change. The recent announcement of Greta Thunberg as Time Magazine 2019 Person of the Year will certainly come up in discussion. This Swedish teenager did not just put climate change in the forefront of different discussion around the world, but was fundamentally indicative of an intergenerational gap on the topic: the perfect ingredient to spice up the conversations around an eggnog and gingerbread cookies.

The holiday season also starts as the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP25) on climate change unwinds in Madrid. Given the context, we want to provide an overview about COP that would be useful to discuss climate change while you’re home for the holidays.

What is COP anyways? 

COP serves as the formal meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The first-ever conference was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995. COP meetings occur annually unless the Parties decide otherwise, marking this year as the 25th meeting. The summits began as a response to the global climate emergency; thus, the overall goal of COP is to find equitable ways to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts from climate change have been disproportionately felt across the globe, and the window for preventing the “point of no return” is closing fast. 

Who attends this conference? 

COP brings in people from all across the globe, as there are representatives from five of the recognized UN regions. There are currently 197 Parties (196 States and one regional economic integration organization) to the UNFCCC. The summit permits anyone to attend as long as they have proper accreditation. Attendees include governments, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, academic institutions, youth groups, and various businesses. The easiest way to obtain accreditation is to accompany a delegation, as they would provide a more meaningful experience to someone attending COP. 

What does COP achieve globally? 

The first ever international climate agreement was ratified during the 21st conference of the parties in Paris, France, famously known worldwide as the Paris Agreement. This marshalled an unprecedented endeavour to achieve a global annual temperature increase below two degrees Celsius. A stipulation of the Paris Agreement being that there would be a complete review of the Parties every five years to collectively assess progress. Thus, COP25 is a defining year, as it was the last time nations negotiated terms prior to the 2020 COP26 meeting – the five year checkpoint. 

Looking back, the first breakthrough was at COP3 where we saw the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse emissions. Ten years later, COP13 looked to expand the Parties to include as many countries as possible — not only the developed ones. COP16 saw the Green Climate Fund, which was created to assist climate actions in developing countries. The next few years included the instalment of the Paris Agreement and then determining the logistics. COP24 saw Article 6, concerning global carbon markets, which was unresolved. This put it at the top of this year’s agenda at COP25.  

What is Canada’s involvement with COP? 

Canada was among the 195 nations who helped ratify the UNFCCC when it entered into force in March 1994. Since then Canada has met annually for all COP meetings and continues to play an active and constructive role in all negotiations. On the international scale, Canada provides leadership to promote sustainability practices to produce a climate-resilient world. This leadership can be viewed through the financial resources used to help developing countries meet the Paris Agreement. Also, under UNFCCC, Canada is striving towards sustainably phasing out coal through the Powering Past Coal Alliance. On the domestic scale, the Canadian Federal government has committed to create a carbon tax and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The overall goal of Canada’s climate change actions is to aid Canadian citizens become more climate resilient so they are prepared and can adapt to the impacts from climate change. 

And what is really so special about COP? 

COP allows for countries to come together to create and evaluate global climate action. The meeting is the only forum on the climate crisis that equally weighs the opinions and concerns of the poorest and wealthiest countries. Countries such as Canada and the United States have just as much power as smaller countries like Mozambique and Chad. This provides fair global authority to all countries, as COP is consensus-based. All countries must agree for international treaties to become effective, which are known as Protocols or Agreements. Having all nations with equal weigh-in provides the best catalyst to be able to combat the global climate emergency. 

Now, if you’ve run out of sports highlights or politics to talk about this holiday season, you can bring climate change into the fold! Time is running out, and the effects are being felt more than ever before in human history.

So, grab a glass of eggnog and start those COP conversations!

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