The first United Nations Environmental Programme summit was held in Stockholm in 1972, over forty years ago. The plan was to hold one every ten years. In 1982 it was convened in Nairobi but was a dismal failure as Reagan (foreshadowing Trump!) refused to commit the USA to any global agreements. In 1992 in Rio there was, however, something of a great leap forward. The Local Agenda 21 was initiated on the principle first put forward by Friends of the Earth: "Think global, Act Local". This really did lead to a flurry of study and action in local contexts throughout the globe.

It was soon realised that decennial global summits were not adequate to the urgency of the situation and the first of the annual Conference of the Parties, COP1 was held in Berlin in 1995. COP2 in 1996 in Geneva proceeded to formulate legally binding mid-term targets. Then COP3 (1997) in Kyoto went much further, concentrating on the meticulous work of Meyer and others to produce a means of calculating the carbon emissions (mainly from CO2 and methane) which were now almost universally regarded as the main cause of global warming.

It had been expected that unresolved issues from Kyoto would be tied up at COP4 (1998 in Buenos Aires) but this proved too difficult in the time available so a two-year plan was drawn up to create mechanisms for implementing the Kyoto protocol by 2000. Then in Bonn in 1999 several technical details were delineated at COP5 and attention was also raised with regard to the ozone layer and the implications of land-use and forestry.

The new century began with a failure at COP6 at the Hague in 2000, so it was reconvened the following year in Bonn where the Clean Development Mechanism was introduced to enable industrialised countries, rather than making their own reductions, to pay for carbon reduction in so-called developing countries. At this point some of the flaws in the whole idea of carbon trading which were enshrined in the Kyoto protocol began to reveal themselves. Nonetheless the notion of carbon sinks and rewards for sequestration of carbon (forests, peat bogs etc.) was a welcome outcome. Later in 2001 at COP7 in Marrakech operational rules for emissions trading were set out along with penalties for non-compliance, but whether these would be legally binding was fudged. In New Delhi at COP8 (2003) Russia hesitated to sign up and, as 55countries were needed to come on board to ratify Kyoto, while the US and Australia continued to refuse, Russia became a key player. Not a lot happened in COPs 9 and 10 in Milan and Buenos Aries. Then in Montreal COP11 brought the Kyoto protocol into force and extended its life beyond the original expiration date of 2012. COP12 was held in Nairobi in 2006 formalising the Clean Development Mechanism and setting out means of support for developing countries.

Moving from 2006 into 2007 and taking stock of our successes and failures it was clear that the next stage of the struggle of humanity against its corporate enemies was to highlight and draw attention to the nature of the causal links between climate and habitat destruction and the logic of expropriation which is intrinsic to global capitalism. Of course some of us had been doing that all along, fighting literally for our lives on the front lines of demonstrations around the world. But as long as the majority of people think these protests have nothing to do with them the expropriators will continue to get away with it at such a pace that we will not have time to reclaim our planet let alone the lives of the poorest of its inhabitants. What we needed to do was to break through a second barrier in the default cultural settings, to demonstrate the relationship between everyday economics under capitalism and the ruin of our Earth. The drama played out in the last night at COP13 in Bali really projected that. There were still no firm figures, only another ‘road map’ ( and we know where ‘road maps’ have ever taken the powers that be) . But look what happened: a serious important responsible Official Representative of the World doing his best, just simply burst into tears, and, as he was led kindly from the podium (by another real human being), the rest of humanity burst into spontaneous applause! Then the US delegation was booed, actually explicitly booed by the representatives of the Rest-of-the-World. And then (wonder of wonders! ) the EU actually waded in behind India and stood up against the bullies.

COP14 in Poznan concentrated on moving towards a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But COP15 in Copenhagen was another disappointment. Extraordinarily President Obama (of all people!) and other world leaders agreed to put off the difficult issues for future meetings so a mere "political accord" was agreed. COP16 in Mexico was high on rhetoric about urgency but low on progress towards it. COP17 in Durban did come up with a legally binding deal (the Durban Platform) but not one that was sufficient to avoid global warming beyond 2 degrees Centigrade. COP18 in Qatar was pretty well scuppered by the lack of commitment by Japan, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and New Zealand - while the US and Brazil never had been subject to the Kyoto protocol. COPs 19 and 20 in Warsaw and Lima were limp squibs.

In 2015 things started looking up again as COP21 in Paris resulted in the adoption of the Paris Agreement which was actually ratified with over 55 countries signed up. This entered into force on 4th November 2016. Then in 2016 COP22 in Marrakech added a sharp focus on water and also reasserted the necessity of using low-carbon energy sources.

There was more despair in 2017 when Trump announced that the US was pulling out of the Paris Agreement. But the situation was saved at COP23 in Bonn when Syria stated that it was signing, thus keeping the necessary 55 countries on board and marking out the US at this point as being the only country in the world which would not honour the deal. However at COP24 in Poland in 2018 the naked selfserving of the coal, oil and gas companies was much in evidence. The conference was sponsored by a huge Polish coal company and there were side events by Shell and gas lobby groups. It became clear that, behind the greenwashing, a small number of rogue countries acting as puppets of the fossil fuel industry can hold up progress. But other side events organised by climate activists brought attention to key points which had not really gained much attention beforehand, particularly the role of the finance industry in funding fossil fuels and the importance of support for indigenous peoples in protecting their forests and general biodiversity.

COP25 in Madrid in 2019 was the longest on record, but despite high profile protests, and Greta Thunberg arriving by sailboat across the Atlantic, UN Secretary General Guterres was not impressed by the results. He said that "the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis. Once again the vital agreements were punted into the future, making COP26 (already delayed until 2021 by the Covid-19 pandemic) absolutely vital. We have to make this work!