Experts criticise 'unfocused' and 'chaotic' COP climate summits

Experts criticise 'unfocused' and 'chaotic' COP climate summits

Pilgrims march through Glasgow to raise awareness of the climate crisis and demand a fair deal at October's COP26 for the Global South.

Experts in diplomacy and international climate negotiations have suggested that the “pomp and celebrity” of annual COP global climate summits detract from the ability to make focused progress and that they should be held every second year instead.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA) and the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), experts reflected on the success of COP26 and the lessons learned going forward.

Connie Hedegaard, former European Commissioner for Climate Action, proposed that the large-scale kind of climate event we know as COP only be held every second year in future.

“It’s time to rethink the COP system slightly. It is so good that they mobilise people … but it also creates false expectations that each year something fantastic and new can be delivered, and that is unfortunately not the way the UN system works,” she said.

She proposed that every second year should be a smaller scale event, focused on a single issue such as adaption, loss and damage, or financing, which are problems so “big and complicated that they do not get the attention that they deserve at each COP”.

Dr Sinéad Walsh, Climate Director with the Department of Foreign Affairs, agreed that “maybe we don't need to have the big hullabaloo every year,” recognising the extensive resources needed to prepare Ireland’s heads of state for annual speeches and negotiations.

However, she pointed out that the annual pressure to appear at COP is often what pushes states to “go further” than they would otherwise. Dr Walsh also highlighted that the visibility of COP as a meeting of world leaders is a huge driver of domestic climate action.

She said:

We have to remember that a big benefit of COP is the conversation that it generates back home. 

"Climate action will take place in domestic contexts in domestic political arenas and that's a 12-month challenge for all of us, it doesn't just happen in the two weeks of COP.”

“We need to see COP as a negotiation space but also as a moment that can help mobilise domestic actors and help domestic activists,” she added.

Alicia O’Sullivan is a law student and Quercus scholar in UCC, and represented the college and World YMCA at COP26. She also supported the idea of a variation on the “chaotic” and “unfocused” climate summit.

“Trying to do everything at once can lead to confusion and people leaving COP with 600 different variations of what happened,” she said.

“I think public participation, and civil society being there in some respect physically absolutely has to happen, but I also think that to focus and to create solutions to the real hard-hitting problems you do have to have a scale back. I think we were just trying to do everything at once, and I think it became unfocused,” she added.

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