2015 Paris Climate Conference 101

By Elysia Rezki

Talks surrounding climate change and “COP” have been particularly prevalent in the news lately, but what does it all mean, and why is it so important?

COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, is the international communities much needed response to the future of our planet. COP21 is simply an acronym standing for the 21st Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The event, hosted in La Bourget, Paris, sees world leaders, politicians and 25,000 official government delegates of the 195 UN states represented. The objective? To find a legally binding and universal agreement on tackling climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C.  The level of corporation and the number of participates makes this one of the largest diplomatic conferences ever organized!

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The first COP was held 20 years ago in Berlin to review the UN Framework on Climate Change adopted by the Rio Earth Summit of 1992. The framework called for action on stabilising greenhouse gasses. After 20 years of climate summits, however, COemissions do not appear to have been reduced. Rather, they have increased by more than 60% (1992 – 2014). Furthermore, evidence suggests that the past 30 years have likely been the warmest period of the past 1400 years! Climate change is likely the greatest threat we have ever faced; requiring us to come together as never before! This all subsequently puts immense pressure on those negotiating in Paris, and especially on the French Government whom hold the responsibility of ensuring the success of COP21.

Since 1988 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been providing policy-makers with an objective source of information concerning the causes of climate change, the potential economic and socio-economic impacts, and most importantly, the possible options of response we have. To summarise the IPCC’s latest report

  • Human impact on the climate system is clear.
  • Continued emissions on greenhouse gasses will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and the eco-systems,
  • Humanity has the means to limit climate change, and to build a more sustainable, resilient future.

So, what does this mean? In essence, we are facing an unprecedented crisis, unquestionably caused by human activity. Impacts are already visible, with evidence providing increasingly worrying trends concerning extreme weather conditions. Floods, droughts, and severe storm surges are regular reoccurrences we face today; 80% of the world’s glaciers have diminished, and sea levels have risen 20cm within the last 100 years! Although industrialisation in the wealthiest countries hold most culpability, unfortunately it is the undeveloped, poorest areas that continue to suffer most.

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The world has a climate budget, and we are rapidly reaching the end of it. If we continue the way in which we are, it is estimated that by 2040, the budget will be exhausted, and it will be too late to reverse such damages. For this reason, it is the common objective of all participants in COP21 to keep the increasing global temperature below 2°C. Many experts, in addition to the Alliance of Small Islands feel the 2°C threshold is not sufficient enough, instead advocating for a threshold of 1.5°C, a level we may already be locked into. There is however some good news after all. The climate crisis can indeed be prevented. We have all the technology, knowledge, and resources to do so. Whilst a lack of political will and a lack of legal obligation has always prevailed over efforts at tackling global warming, for many COP21 is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What is being done?

The Sunday before COP21, hundreds of thousands of people came together in solidarity and took to the streets.  The Global Climate March took place in cities all over the world, from Berlin to Hong Kong, Sydney and Seattle, to name just a few. In Paris, around 10,000 pairs of shoes where set out to represent those unable to March due to a ban by French authorities following the aftermath of the attacks taken place there just weeks before. Whilst numerous events had been removed from the COP21 agenda for security risks following the attacks, President Hollande assured the world that the conference would still take place, “COP21 will bring hope and solidarity.”

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Whilst it is often argued that the political and economic elites lack the will to initiate change, it is certainly clear that the people do. Citizens from a far-reaching union of environmentalists, trade unions and other social movements are marching on the streets as well as acting online – applying pressure bottom-up where we are unsatisfied with the work of those governing us.

COP21 Progress

The draft negotiation for a global deal has already been completed. It is the role of Ministers to compromise this text into a legally binding deal accepted unanimously by all 195 parties. This will not be a simple task, in fact over 900 areas of disagreements have already been documented! The voluntary nature of previous COP deals have always been areas of criticism for the lack of progress. The fact that the aim is to produce a legally binding agreement is subsequently significant. Whilst negotiations continue to take place, most present are fairly optimistic that a deal will indeed be finalised by the end of the second week. Key topics discussed so far include questions of temperature (2°C or 1.5°C?), finance distribution (is it fair to make the poorest countries pay the bill?), renewable energies  (African Renewable Energy Initiative worth $5 billion), and deforestation (a new plan to restore forest cover to 1990 levels by 2050.) Of course, there are no overnight fixes. Whilst we cannot yet know whether COP21 will provide successful results, it is clear that climate change requires ambitious solutions which entail ongoing willingness and commitment to be fought by generations to come.

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