The Meat and Potatoes of Climate Negotiations (tofu and potatoes for vegan readers)

by Brigette DePape

Canadian Youth Delegation Policy Team

UNFCC…. wait how many Cs?

The UNFCCC is not the easiest acronym. (UNFCC does not sound right, but UNFCCC sounds like way too many Cs.) But it is indeed the UNFCCC and it makes sense when you know that it stands for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

In 1990, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution to formally begin negotiations for an international climate change agreement. On May 9, 1992, the UN Framework Convention was adopted. It has been signed by 191 nations. The overall  purpose of the UNFCCC is to stabilize of green-house gases at a level that would prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the climate system.

What is COP?

COP stands for the Conference of the Parties. It is the highest decision making authority of the UNFCCC. Essentially, it is a summit where power-holders from all over the world meet to discuss how to address climate change on a global scale. It is comparable to the G20 meetings, except that representatives from all countries can attend. Those who make decisions at the conference are politicians, including heads of state and ministers.

COP is mandated to implement the convention, to adopt decisions to advance the convention’s rules, and to create new commitments. The Kyoto Protocol, which set binding targets on green house gas emissions (GHGs) came out of this process in 1997.

The failures of Copenhagen, Cancun, and the UNFCCC

The most significant and noteworthy COP was the one in Copenhagen in 2009. The last COP was held in Cancun in 2010. Both COPs were failures. There was no binding accord, civil society was excluded from the process, and in the case of Copenhagen, police brutality was used against peaceful protestors.

The underlying assumption of the UNFCCC is that players at the table at COP have equal power to lobby for the solutions they see fit. In reality, this is not the case in the context of the world economic system where there are deeply un-equal power relations, where the core industrialized western nations hold the greatest wealth and power, yet produce the most GHGs and are most responsible for climate change. At COP, powerful nations, mostly nations with natural resource based economies, with large fossil fuel addictions and with influential corporations, try to duck out from their responsibility for climate change. Meanwhile, those who are least responsible for climate change, have little bargaining power.

At the same time, some industrialized nations are doing better than others. Of industrialized nations, the EU puts Canada to shame. They have brought forward relatively strong targets and are going to meet them. The EU shows that western nations can establish agreements that share the burden more fairly and are able to reduce their greenhouse gases. Still, much more needs to be done by all industrialized nations.

Wikileaks and Bolivia for the win! 

While the UN climate talks are often portrayed as the negotiations to save our planet, a deeper look reveals that they are oozing with messy politics where rich countries will do anything not to take meaningful action. Wikileaks exposed that the U.S. used espionage, threats and promises of aid, to obtain support for the Copenhagen Accord. Essentially, the U.S. bribed Islands Nations and other nations who are most impacted by climate change with aid money, though these countries explain that it is their right, not a reward.

In Cancun, Bolivia was the only country to stand up and protest against the empty accord that would commit us to renegade climate change. The year before they had playing a leading role in establishing a real alternative to a failing accord and process – the World People’s Summit on Climate Change.

The World People’s Summit on climate change was a gathering of 30 000 people in Cochabamba, Bolivia. People from all walks of life participated, including rural and urban, and mostly Indigenous Peoples. The conference was a response by civil society and many governments to the failures of COP and the UNFCCC. The conference criticized the UNFCCC process and put forward real solutions and alternatives, such as the establishment of an international climate justice tribunal to hold countries legally accountable to Kyoto commitments.

In solidarity with other progressive groups around the world, youth in Canada, under the organization of the CYCC, decided to host their own climate justice tribunals to hold their government accountable. Stay tuned! It will be taking place in November.


Medalye, Jacqueline. “COP15 in an Uneven World: Contradiction and crisis at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” in L Anders & Tor Sandberg (eds.) Climate Change: Who’s Carrying the Burden? Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2010.

Carrington, Damian. (December 3, 2010). WikiLeaks cables reveal how US manipulated climate record. Retrieved from

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