What is COP 18/ CMP8 ?

The Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Meeting of Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol are convened annually between the months of November and December. This year marks the 18th COP and 8th MOP, which will take place at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, Qatar from 26 November to 7 December 2012.

For further information on the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, the structure and function of the meetings, the make-up and positions of the main negotiating groups and some of the key issues that will be on the agenda and sources of more information, please visit the official conference website at http://unfccc.int/meetings/doha_nov_2012/meeting/6815.php and the host city website at http://www.cop18.qa

Who will be attending?

The COP 18 sessions of the UNFCCC are open to Parties of the Convention and Observer States (governments), the United Nations System and observer organizations duly admitted by the COP (for example WMO, UNEP, IPCC, World Bank, GEF). In addition, accredited press is allowed to cover the proceedings of the Convention and accredited business and environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can attend the broader proceedings and official side events.

Unlike previous COP meetings such as Copenhagen, world leaders are not expected to converge in Doha. Instead, senior Ministers and government officials will be leading the negotiations.

Ilona Millar will be representing Baker & McKenzie at COP this year. Further information regarding her participation is provided below.

Expected outcomes?

A number of significant decisions are expected to be taken in Doha, in particular with respect to the future of the Kyoto Protocol.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012) expires on 31 December 2012 and Parties to the Kyoto Protocol are seeking to put in place new targets and rules for Annex B (developed country) Parties for a second commitment period. Whilst some Annex B Parties have indicated that they will not participate in a second commitment period (e.g. Canada, Japan and Russia), others, including the EU, Norway, Switzerland and, most recently, Australia, have signalled their intention to sign up.

Decisions will need to be taken regarding the length of the commitment period (noting that a new agreement under the COP is not expected to commence until 2020), the final targets for Annex B Parties, rules for the carry-over of Assigned Amount Units from the first commitment period and access to the Kyoto Protocol's flexible mechanisms for non-participants in a second commitment period. Given the timing of these decisions, there may also need to be agreement on the application of the new rules pending ratification of amendments to the Kyoto Protocol.

Whilst some Parties question the ongoing role of the Kyoto Protocol -particularly given the modest levels of ambition in Annex B targets and limited coverage of global GHG emissions - it remains important as the only source of internationally, legally binding targets and also provides the rules for emissions reporting for Annex B countries. In addition, it establishes the flexible mechanisms - the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and international emissions trading, which are aimed at assisting Parties to achieve emissions abatement at least cost.

Further progress on improving the transparency and governance of the CDM is expected in Doha, particularly in light of the recently released report of the High-Level Panel on the CDM Policy Dialogue (available here). Whether some of the Panel's recommendations regarding measures to constrain excess supply in the CDM market will be taken up by Parties is uncertain. However, some of the less controversial recommendations regarding standardization and regional participation are likely to be supported. The MOP will also consider issues related to the establishment of an appeals mechanism for the CDM as well as the extension of CCS in the CDM to transboundary CCS project activities.

Last year at COP 17, Parties agreed to launch the Durban Platform - a process to reach agreement by 2015 on a new, inclusive and effective international climate change framework, to be implemented by 2020. That framework may take the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention. The Doha meetings are expected to progress discussions about both the form of the agreement and its scope and the principles that guide the agreement (including the controversial meaning of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities). Whilst this negotiating process is just beginning, Parties are expected to agree to a detailed work plan for future work between 2013 and 2015.

The Ad-hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), which has pursued a multi-faceted work programme since COP 13 in Bali, is expected to complete its mandated work this year. The work programme has explored mitigation actions, including pledges of nationally appropriate mitigation action (NAMAs), adaptation, technology transfer and climate finance, including the establishment of the Green Climate Fund. The AWG-LCA has also been responsible for developing the framework for REDD+ and initiating consideration of a new market mechanism (NMM). Many of these issues are still ongoing, and decisions will need to be taken with respect to whether they become part of the Durban Platform negotiations or are addressed in the subsidiary bodies.

Whilst expectations are for a 'low-key' COP, with a number of procedural issues to be resolved, there may still be some surprises. Many commentators will be looking for signals of positive commitments to the Green Climate Fund, the operationalization of the Adaptation Committee, NAMA Registry and Technology Executive Committee and Climate Technology Centre, along with a renewed engagement by the US following the re-election of President Obama.