What is COP?

Photo: Diana Jakeways – Flooding of the River Wharfe in Otley

COP – or Conference of the Parties- is the United Nations conference on climate change. It takes place every year and will bring together around 200 countries to present their plans to reduce carbon emissions. This year is the 27th conference so it is known as COP27. The discussions at COP this year will take place in the context of 3 overarching themes: Emissions reductions, Climate finance, Prioritising people

Emissions reductions

194 countries signed the Paris agreement in 2015, pledging to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. The UK hosted COP26 in Glasgow last year, where all nations were obligated to revisit and strengthen their 2030 climate plans, but so far only 23 countries have submitted increased pledges to reduce emissions. Meanwhile temperatures have already risen by 1.1C resulting in visible changes in our climate with melting of the ice caps, retreating glaciers, rising sea levels, disastrous floods, droughts, fires, hurricanes and storms across the globe. We are perilously close to tipping points e.g., melting of ice makes the poles darker so even more heat is absorbed, melting permafrost in Siberia releases methane which is a potent greenhouse gas. We know that all remaining fossil fuels need to stay in the ground in order to stop an inexorable rise in CO2 emissions and with it the temperature, yet countries including the UK are still commissioning exploration of new oil and gas fields and planning new coal mines. Major international banks are still funding these activities. Responses pledged by governments across the world to date mean that we are on course to hit a 2.5C rise in temperature.

What can we do as individuals to reduce emissions? We can lobby the government to invest in renewable energy, insulate existing homes and specify much higher standards for new build to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. In line with our Quaker sustainability testimony we can personally use public transport rather than private cars or walk or cycle whenever possible, and strictly limit our use of air travel. We can avoid food waste and eat less or no meat. We can re-use, repair and recycle as far as possible. We can insulate our homes. Every little helps, but it needs to be part of an overall government strategy to really gain traction, e.g., if there is a focus on building new roads while allowing the decline of public transport infrastructure it will be hard for the actions of individuals to make a difference at UK level.

Climate Finance

Back in 2009 leaders of developed countries promised to deliver $100 billion a year to developing countries to help them to mitigate their emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change, yet this has not materialised. Less developed countries may well question why they should make and deliver on commitments to tackle climate change while those most responsible fail to keep their promises.

Prioritising People

Rich countries in the global north are responsible for over two thirds of global CO2 emissions, but it is communities in the global south which face the worst climate impacts. Some small island nations are now at risk of disappearing under the sea as sea levels rise. The Pacific island of Tuvalu is forecast to be submerged by the end of the century: 40% of the capital district is already underwater at high tide. In December 2021 Super Typhoon Odette wrought havoc in the Philippines. This year Africa has been hit by devastating droughts. In summer 2022 flooding covered a third of Pakistan with consequent dislocation, disruption, disease and death. $10 billion was lost to the economy of Pakistan as a result of the floods, yet Pakistan paid the IMF $15 billion in debt repayment in the same summer.  We have seen on our TV screens the desolate pictures of families who have lost their homes and all their possessions in the floods camping along a road slightly higher than the surrounding flooded fields with no food supply, no clean water, nothing to do and nowhere to go.  What will it now cost to deal with a situation like this?

Flooding of the River Wharfe in Otley can cause misery to shopkeepers and owners of nearby houses. It has always happened, but rising temperatures cause increased rainfall and the frequency of flooding was increasing to the extent that expensive major works were undertaken recently to protect the road and surrounding properties. This is on a vanishingly small scale compared to the situation in Pakistan and, of course, the UK is rich enough to do something about it.

Countries in the global south are calling ever more loudly for rich countries in the global north, who are responsible for climate change, to provide a loss and damage fund to compensate the countries in the global south for the huge losses they are already suffering.

It is in line with our Quaker testimonies of integrity, equality and peace to support such a fund and to lobby our government to stop blocking it. For more detail and a further Quaker perspective on this see


Some of the data in the article is reproducted with permission of Otley2030 who compiled it.

Blog posts are written by members of Ilkley Meeting and occasionally other contributors. Posts are not necessarily endorsed by the Meeting and may not always represent the opinions of our members or the wider Quaker community.

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