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COP 15 is an annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).  UNFCC is an international treaty signed by most countries in the 1990s to consider ways to reduce global warming and cope with the impact of inevitable rising temperatures.  The countries negotiating under UNFCC are called the Parties.  The meeting in Copenhagen is the 15th annual Conference of the Parties (COP 15).

The UNFCC conducted numerous climate change studies over the years and it became clear that real reductions must be made in greenhouse gas emissions in order to stop global warming before its effects were irreversible and catastrophic.  The Kyoto Protocol (KP) is an international and legally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and was negotiated under UNFCC.  It was negotiated in 1997 and came into force in 2005 and requires the signatory parties reduce or limit their emissions by 2012.  In other words the Kyoto Protocol is still in force.

So what are the COP 15 negotiations about?

The COP 15 negotiations are aimed at producing an agreement to replace Kyoto when it expires in 2012.  Only developed countries are required under KP to meet emission reduction targets. However, it is very important that the signatory countries are kept to their commitments under KP because it is legally binding and the targets still need to be met in order to have an impact against climate change. COP 15 is not about replacing Kyoto but building upon it.     

Since Kyoto, however, it has become clear that much more needs to be done to reduce climate change and it is necessary to bring both developing countries and the United States into the negotiations. Therefore, the COP 15 negotiations are taking place on two tracks.

Track 1 AWG-LCA Is the Ad-hoc working group on Long-Term Cooperative Action or LCA under the UNFCC. The LCA includes a shared vision for all 191 nations, reduction targets for all countries and measures to assist developing countries as well as those most negatively affected by climate change.  Because of the complexity of United Nations processes, negotiations must be completed by December 2009 in order to have a new agreement in place by January 2013. 

Track 2 AWGKP Kyoto Protocol Is the Ad-hoc working group on further commitments under the Kyoto protocol.  It includes emission reduction targets for developing countries, post 2012, further work on flexibility mechanisms (carbon offsets) and compensation for potential consequences on developing countries.