What to Know for the Paris Climate Talks

 

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This week, an important and big climate change conference started in Paris, and will continue until December 11th. In the wake of the 13 November terrorism, an already high-profile meeting will take on new meaning. It would not be hyperbolic to say what could come out of the Paris meeting could chart the very path of human existence for our foreseeable future.

This is a brief post that includes some useful links and a very quick primer to help ProjectARCC allies understand the significance of the road ahead. If this primer leaves you wanting more, I highly recommend this short graphic novella of the history of international efforts to manage climate change. A text-based timeline can also be found here.

WHO?

The Paris talks, often referred to in shorthand as COP21 (or the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCC) will be the most recent attempt to bring together the international community to committing to real reductions in carbon emissions that will keep the world as close to not exceeding 2º Celsius of warming as possible. 2º Celsius has been the benchmark target set by the climate change policy community for several years, and exceeding this target will almost certainly cause severe and irreversible changes to the world climate. We have already warmed the planet by 0.8º Celsius since the late 1800s. Because reduction of emissions would have to be so dramatic to bring current projections to 2º or less, many scientists and policy makers are now reckoning with adaptation to a planet that could warm by at least 4º Celsius by 2100, if massive reductions in carbon emissions are not immediately implemented.

WHERE?

Paris, France (specifically, Le Bourget, which is just outside Paris). COP meetings rotate between regions, and France applied for the 2015 Western European hosting turn back in 2012. The actual meeting can only be attended by national delegations of the UNFCC parties, intergovernmental agencies and non-governmental organizations with officially-recognized observer status (e.g., the World Bank), and journalists. However, close to the official meeting location, there will be a venue that will host activities that the general public can attend.

As this blog post goes to press, following the Paris terrorist attacks French authorities are committed to going forward with hosting and security for the official meeting events, but will not allow any public street marches associated with the climate talks. At past climate summits, such as Copenhagen in 2009, public demonstrations served an important role in giving voice to those most vulnerable to climate change’s disasterous effects.

WHEN?

While the meeting will take place over the course of 12 days, there has been significant groundwork laid over the past year. The initial negotiation sessions began in February, in Switzerland. The meeting in Paris will be the final vote to accept the framework to measure progress on each country’s committed reductions.

WHY?

In general, the COP (Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change) takes place every year (since 1995). In addition, you may see things like “CMP” when reading about COP — this refers to parties which signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, which was the first time binding greenhouse gas emission targets were set. This year is the 21st conference of COP, and the 11th conference of CMP (i.e., COP21/CMP11). The United States is a party to the UNFCC, but never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, citing concerns over lack of emissions reductions from developing countries. This is why the recent carbon emissions agreement between China and the United States is a huge deal — it represents perhaps a loosening of the “Which country should cut first and faster?” question that has often derailed recent international climate negotiations.

HOW?

The biggest difference with this round of climate talks is the model to which countries are pledging individual emissions reduction targets. Each country has set their own target, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC)– on the plus side, this means countries may be more likely to actually meet reduction goals, something that has been elusive in the past. On the other hand, many experts note that even if all countries meet their own self-defined targets, it will not be enough to collectively stay under the 2º target. The World Resources Institute has developed an interesting visualization tool for the submitted INDCs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

Historically, a stumbling block in climate talks has been tension between reduction expectations of highly developed countries with high emissions (such as the United States) compared to rapidly developing countries (such as China and India). Meanwhile, many Pacific Island nations are literally reckoning with going underwater, possibly in our lifetimes. There will likely be significant discussion over the obligations of developed countries to assist extremely vulnerable and under-resourced countries cope with the effects of climate change.

— Eira Tansey

 

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