COP is ... not a guy in a uniform

2011-12-03 07:26

COP. The guy in a blue suit chasing the bad guys around the Durban International Conference Centre? Not quite.

AOSIS. A tranquil place to put your feet up away from the hectic climate talks? Uhm …

BASIC. The hope that the negotiators at COP17 will dumb it down for you? No.

The yearly United Nations climate talks have spawned some interesting and impressive jargon over the years. It can leave newcomers feeling that they are entering a secret club where you need a clandestine password to grasp what delegates mean.

And unfortunately there is no translation guidebook for sale at the entrance to the talks.

The first and foremost term is the much bandied about COP17 – the 17th Conference of Parties. If you can separate your COPs from your MOPs a big part of the battle is won. Except MOP (meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol) is now an outdated term and has been replaced with CMP. In the COP every nation or party negotiates while in the CMP sessions the US is excluded because it did not sign on to the protocol.

Another popular jargon-loaded word is the Annex 1 countries – the 38 industrialised countries, plus the European Union, committed to making cuts in greenhouse gas emissions at this stage of the game. It is enough to understand that the Annex 1 countries are the loaded ones. And please do not refer to them as the West. Japan and Russia get upset.

Then there are the ad-hoc working groups where the deep underground hard work of the COPs take place, the AWG-KP 16-4 and AWG-LCA. Intimidating stuff.

AWG stands for Ad-hoc working group, not rocket science. The KP is the Kyoto Protocol and the LCA for Long-term Cooperative Action. These are the two tracks that are being negotiated at COP17 and go to the heart of the talks.

Another negotiating meeting at COP is SBSTA 35 or the 35th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice. This is where negotiators get their scientific information from to make informed political decisions.

If you have not headed for the hills yet, we’ll get to Kyoto, unfortunately not the name of a Japanese city in the climate change negotiations. The Kyoto Protocol or KP as it is lovingly called by those who fear its demise has its own jargon that might impress your dinner guests (or send them to sleep).

First there are the “flex mex” issues that allow rich countries to achieve some of their greenhouse gas caps by investing in reductions in other countries such CDM and JI.

CDM stands for the clean development mechanism, a financial mechanism of Kyoto that gives carbon credits to rich countries that invest in climate change related projects in the developing world. Your banker friends will be suitably impressed if you mention that CDMs are one of the drivers of the carbon market and that it is a real pity that South Africa might lose out on CDMs in future.

But stop the conversation there. Don’t worry about JI or Joint Implementation. It’s not relevant at all to South Africa. (But if you are Russian, feel free to Google this.)

Rather move on to REDD+: Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation. Despite its name that leaves you out of breath, REDD+ urges countries to plant trees and fill up their forests again and gets rich countries to pay poor countries to do this.

LULUCF rolls off the tongue like a COP17 delegate introducing herself for a long haul bilateral (a meeting between two countries). But in fact it refers to Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry activities, all designed to increase carbon stores, or sinks and also links to REDD+. It is good enough for you to mention: “I hope they will solve the outstanding issues around REDD+ and LULUCF soon, because we really need to start looking after our rainforests.”

Aosis? It refers to those small island states such as the Maldives and Tuvalu that will be under water because of sea-level rise. A very frightening thought indeed.

And BASIC basically stands for the major emitters in the developing word China, India, South Africa and Brazil.
A very basic term in the bigger scheme of things ...

» Follow our COP17 coverage here.

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