UN considers biennial climate summits post 2015 deal

Global negotiations could take place every two years as UN body focuses on implementing decisions

2012 UN climate summit, Doha (Pic: UNFCCC)

2012 UN climate summit, Doha (Pic: UNFCCC)

By Ed King

The UN is considering reducing the frequency of its annual climate change summit to make it a biennial event, according to a document released this week.

The change could come into effect in 2016, after next year’s Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris, where nearly 200 countries are scheduled to sign off a global emissions reduction agreement.

“The calendar of intergovernmental meetings has become increasingly complex and crowded over the past five years,” says the document, attributed to Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.

It continues: “after COP 21 and CMP 11, it may not be necessary to convene COP and CMP sessions every year but rather shift COP and CMP sessions to a biennial cycle, as is the case for a number of other treaty processes.”

Since UN climate negotiations started in 1992, the annual two-week COP has often been seen as a ‘cup final’ where the texts of agreements are fought over in sessions that can last through the night, and often finish 24-36 hours after the planned closing time.

And for many parties the intensity and global scrutiny on one main event every year can make coming to reasoned decisions difficult. In a recent interview with RTCC Russia’s climate negotiator Oleg Shamanov criticised what he termed “decision by exhaustion” at the talks.


Veteran UN observer and Chatham House Associate Fellow Farhana Yamin told RTCC recent COPs have become a little “crazy”.

“The strategic advantage and political tactics of negotiations make it even easier and more profitable for a country or blockers to now ‘waste’ the time allocated to the SBs [subsidiary body] and then to ‘hijack’ the COP to solve their issue (and to hold out for the last 36 hours).

“This is a waste of time and very frustrating to those countries/groups that don’t want to use such extreme and damaging tactics.”

Yamin added annual COPs are important to keep governments “accountable” but favours a longer term agenda over 2-5 years, which would remove the pressure on individual events.

It’s unclear how much support this proposal would receive from governments, but it is a sign the UN is keen to shake up the talks post 2015, with a greater focus on implementing decisions.

Former Dutch lead negotiator Maas Goote welcomed the prospect of fewer summits tweeting: “Wise idea! Provides time to implement action on the ground. But won’t be accepted.”

Quamrul Choudhury, who represents Bangladesh and the Least Developed Countries bloc at the talks tweeted: “Summit every two years good, needs more concrete actions on the ground in LDCs.”

Read more on: Climate politics | UN climate talks