COP-20 for Beginners

Confused about COP-20? Lost in acronym soup? Have no fear; here is a quick overview on COP-20 and its importance.

What is COP-20?

COP-20 stands for the 20th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is the overarching treaty for mitigating emissions that accelerate climate change. Under the UNFCCC, countries meet yearly to share information on their respective emissions and negotiate agreements that enable the global climate to remain free of dangerous anthropogenic change. COP-20 will be held in Lima, Peru, in the first two weeks of December 2014.

Why is COP-20 important?

COP-20 is the last meeting of the parties before next year’s meeting in Paris (COP-21) where countries will decide on a new global climate agreement under the UNFCCC. Much of what is decided in Paris will be negotiated over the coming year; indeed, a draft negotiating text will be prepared before the Lima conference. COP-21 in Paris is the world’s last chance to achieve a global, legally binding climate protocol or other legal instrument, and the decisions made at COP-20 directly impact the level of ambition and scope of the agreement to come out of Paris.

Who are the key decision-makers at COP-20?

With 195 countries parties to the convention, the UNFCCC is the only truly global forum for action to control climate change. Still, a handful of countries constitute the majority of the world’s emissions, and so their participation in a legally binding global agreement is crucial in order for climate change to be slowed down in any meaningful way. These countries are, in order of total emissions, China, USA, India, and Russia. These countries, along with the European Union member states and other high-income parties, will also be pressed to provide more resources for developing countries to be able to adapt to the already-changing climate, and to compensate for losses incurred.

How is COP-20 related to the Kyoto Protocol?

The Kyoto Protocol was the first binding global agreement under the UNFCCC. It entered into force in 1997, and it was extended in 2012 until 2020. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries were categorized according to their level of economic development and given different emissions reductions targets accordingly, showing the spirit of the UNFCCC guiding principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. The USA signed, but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol. India and China do not have binding targets under the Kyoto Protocol. The new global agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol, entering into force in 2020 when the second phase of Kyoto Protocol ends.

Where can I learn more?

General information as well as continuous updates are provided on the COP-20 website, and advocacy groups like provide a wide range of information on climate issues and policy around the world. Finally, follow our blog for weekly entries on all things related to COP-20 and the global climate!


Laura Sundblad graduated from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2014. She currently works in New York in the field of access to clean energy and is a CUCSD COP-20 Delegation Member.