It all started in 1992, when an international environmental treaty entitled the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted for signature at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The treaty called for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. That is how the Conference of the Parties negotiating climate agreement, which is known better by its acronym COP, was born, leading to the 23rd Conference of the Parties or COP23 in Bonn, Germany, which kicked off yesterday and is expected to be attended by 25,000 people.

What is significant about COP23 is the fact that it is the last COP before 2018, the year that will host the first dialogue about the progress of the Paris Agreement. With 197 signatories, the 2015 Paris Agreement marks an important milestone for global climate talks, specifically for its encouragement of governments to reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming to below 2°C. During COP23, parties will discuss the implementation structure of the articles of this agreement and address some of the loopholes left by the Paris Agreement.

In the next two weeks, from November 6 to 17, parties will be divided into groups, many of which overlap, to negotiate the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, anticipation and adaptation of the adverse effects of climate change, a framework for transparency between parties, global stocktake (a review of the impact of parties’ or countries’ climate change action done every five years), and finally, loss and damage caused by climate change.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi participated in a roundtable with other female leaders in Copenhagen in 2009 to discuss solutions for climate change hosted by the Global Gender and Climate Alliance. (December 2009) CC: Nancy Pelosi.

But to truly understand the significance of COP, we need to go back even further, to a story about why the Paris Agreement is considered the UNFCCC’s success to begin with. With the U.S. in the lead, a deal was made in Copenhagen eight years ago that failed to unite all parties for many reasons; most significantly, it was a bit too harsh for world leaders to take on. It wasn’t until six years later in 2015 in Paris that COP learned its lesson and united almost all parties. The catch was: it was not legally binding.


French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius – President of the COP21 climate change conference – raises his hands along with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande on December 2015. CC: U.S. Department of State

In spite of that, U.S. President Donald Trump still thought it was too harsh and decided to pull out of the Paris Agreement in June of this year, causing devastating U.S. environmentalists. “The Paris Agreement handicaps the United States’ economy in order to win praise from the very foreign capitals and global activists that have long sought to gain wealth at our country’s expense,” he said in a speech. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Following the speech, more than 250 local governments in the U.S. decided to challenge the Trump administration and follow the agreement locally; city representatives and civil society are present at COP23 to voice both their persistence and resistance.

With the decision to pull out of the agreement, the only countries that have not signed are the U.S., Syria and Nicaragua. While Syria was not part of the original agreement because of its status as an “international pariah,” as one columnist put it, Nicaragua had a very different stance on the Paris Agreement, as it thought it was too soft, relied heavily on voluntary pledges and therefore held no country accountable for its greenhouse gas emissions. But with Trump’s move, Nicaragua was encouraged to sign the agreement only days before COP23 because “it didn’t want to be on Trump’s side of history,” environmental advocate and delegate from the Nicaraguan Alliance on Climate Change (ANACC), Bernis Cunningham, tells progrss.


An aerial view of Puerto Cabezas in Nicaragua. CC: Kaila Rumford

progrss sits with Cunningham at COP23 and listen to him as he breaks down Nicaragua’s rationale: “Nicaragua found that the Agreement was not ambitious enough; it will not take us to the 1.5 degrees objective. While the civil society did not support their government’s decision, they totally understood.” He explains that 52 percent of Nicaragua’s needs are powered by renewable energy, and this is expected to reach 90 percent by 2020. “The investment is there, the government exempts taxes for anyone who invests in solar and wind energy. So, in mitigation attempts we are really advanced.”

On the other hand, Nicaragua needs to work a lot on adaptation, which where Cunningham hopes that the Paris Agreement will help. Between 1990 and 2010, Nicaragua lost an average of 70,000 hectares of planted forest, which represents 1.55 percent per year. In total, 31 percent of Nicargua’s forests, comprising 1.4 million hectares, were lost to climate change between 1990 and 2010. Another major concern as a result of climate change in Nicaragua is flooding; the country was one of those affected by Storm Nate earlier this year, which caused severe damage to the infrastructure of San Juan del Sur. “We think the Paris Agreement can bring some answers, some finance because the promise of the developing world is how to finance this adaptation process and loss and damage caused by climate change,” he concludes.