In 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations held an “Earth Summit” (officially known as the UN Conference on Environment and Development). As delegations realized climate change will only become more of a problem in the future, and that greenhouse gas emissions should be drastically lowered, they negotiated the UN Framework Convention on Climate change, mostly known as UNFCCC.
Although the UNFCCC did not set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions for individual countries, it provided a basic platform, or framework, for negotiating future treaties that can be legally binding. Thus, after the initial conference in Rio de Janeiro, the UN has organized Conferences of the Parties (COPs) in which the members of the UNFCCC gather to assess climate change progress on a global scale, and attempt to reach conclusive agreements regarding the issue.
One of the most notable COPs was the third one, held in Kyoto, which gave rise to the Kyoto Protocol- an agreement that limits CO2 emissions. The protocol, however, is bound to expire in 2020.
An example of a conference that did not go so well was the climate summit in Copenhagen, in 2009. It was a conference which failed to produce any type of legally binding agreement, and essentially ended up in only “recognizing” the importance of keeping global temperature rises below 2 degrees Celsius.
COP21 in Paris is set out to avoid the mistakes made in the past- and create a legally binding agreement that prevents future catastrophes.