What You Should Know About Paris COP21

by Rolly Montpellier
(Ottawa, Canada)


COP21 has been described as humanity’s last chance for tackling climate change.

With only days remaining before the start of the United Nations’ Paris Climate Talks, it’s important to understand the backstory of COP21, very likely the most critical of all previous Conference of Parties meetings.

Over 100 world leaders, some 40,000 delegates and hundreds of thousands of protesters will descend on Paris starting on November 30 with the aim of reaching a global binding agreement on emissions.

I’m a Climate Reality leader trained in Chicago during the summer of 2013. The following material is sourced from The Climate Reality Project.

The Backstory of COP21

What exactly will be happening at the Paris climate talks? Even if the conference’s themes and goals are clear, who precisely is involved and what actually happens can still seem a bit of a mystery. Plus, how did we get here in the first place?

These are important questions if you’re going to follow along through the upcoming weeks of negotiations. So we’ve put together a short primer below to give you the Who/What/When of international climate negotiations leading up to Paris and then beyond.

While it’s been a long road to get here, one of the factors that make the Paris talks different from previous negotiations – and means we have a real chance at a historic agreement – is that negotiators have learned from past attempts and have adjusted their approach accordingly.

1987

Countries agree to the Montreal Protocol to quickly phase out the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) creating a hole in the ozone layer.

Then, two years later the protocol goes into effect.

Think of the Montreal Protocol as establishing a global working model of a framework agreement where countries agree to a set of environmental goals and then separately implement measures to achieve them. We’ll see later on how important this framework has become.

1992

One hundred and fifty-four countries sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a framework agreement binding all signing nations and the EU (known as “parties”) to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with Earth’s climate system” and to monitor and report their activities on climate change.

It also crucially separated developed countries and developing countries into “annexes” with differentiated responsibilities.

Today, 195 countries and the EU have signed the treaty. The UNFCCC is a big step forward, but it doesn’t – on its own – commit countries to actually doing anything to reduce emissions.

1997

Nations make the first serious attempt at an agreement to move forward on the UNFCCC’s goals – and the result is the Kyoto Protocol.

The agreement sets up a structure that follows the UNFCCC treaty’s annexes, where industrialized countries who ratify the protocol are legally bound to work towards targets set at the international level for reducing emissions, beginning in 2005 (developing countries were not bound to any targets).

Splits between developed and developing nations led to some countries, including the US to not formally join the agreement, but it did bind the EU and some industrialized countries to emissions reduction targets they ultimately met.

2009

The UNFCCC holds its 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) meeting in Copenhagen with the goal of finding a new and more inclusive way forward for international efforts on climate change.For several reasons, COP 15 didn’t meet the climate movement’s expectations, but it did push the international community towards the idea of nationally determined targets.

2011

At COP 17 in Durban, South Africa, negotiators set COP 21 in Paris in 2015 as the time and place for a new global climate agreement, this time applicable to all parties.

2013

Negotiators at COP 19 in Warsaw, Poland establish Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) as the tool for countries to make and submit commitments to climate action as part of the Paris agreement. What separates INDCs from previous policy efforts is that they:
  • Allow countries to set their own targets under a common framework, instead of having them set by the international community
  • Were supposed to be submitted in advance of the Paris talks, enabling citizens and other nations to see each country’s commitments
  • Include the policies countries would use to make good on their commitments
  • and are expected to be submitted by all nations, not just developed nations.
The result is that for the first time, countries are setting real goals under an established system, saying how they’ll meet them, and exposing themselves to public scrutiny.

2015

COP 21 is just ahead. Think of the agreements and decisions that came out of the earlier meetings as steps to get here.

The format itself is pretty simple: 196 parties to the UNFCCC (195 countries and the EU) send delegates chosen by their national governments.

Who these delegates are and who leads them varies from country to country: the US, for example is sending US Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern from the US State Department to lead its delegation, while China is sending Xie Zhenhua, the vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, and other nations are sending their environment ministers.

Regardless of their title, these delegates are there to represent their nation’s position and have the power to give and take on what they’re willing to commit to as part of negotiations.

So far, INDCs representing over 150 nations have been submitted and according to the UNFCCC and scientists who’ve considered what these commitments will together do to restrain global warming, we’ve still got some ways to go to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius or less.

This is why citizen calls for negotiators to get even more ambitious with their commitments are so critical to ensuring we get an agreement in Paris that can actually address climate change in the timeframe we need.

If you haven’t already, add your voice here.

With respect to what they’ll actually be negotiating in Paris, at a meeting in Geneva back in February, all the nations participating weighed in with their perspectives on what the agreement in Paris should contain.

Two UNFCCC co-chairs then took on the job of distilling all these opinions over the course of the year, eventually coming to a 31-page draft agreement that will be the starting point for negotiations, not to mention separate decisions to supplement the draft agreement.

Moving Forward

Regardless of what the final text of the agreement that comes out of these negotiations is, it’s important to remember that it will be just a starting point – an important one but a starting point nonetheless.

After the talks end, it will be up to us – people like you – to make sure our policymakers not only make good on what they promised in Paris, but also progressively make their commitments more and more ambitious.

We’re pushing for an agreement that formalizes this process with a review period every five years to evaluate what countries have done and what more they could do, keeping the momentum going and taking us closer to a future where carbon-powered economies and the worst of climate change are things of the past.

If all goes well, a vision of that future will be written into the agreement in the shape of a long-term goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions, sending a strong signal to the world that the age of fossil fuels is over. And that’s a goal worth fighting for.

Rolly Montpellier

Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer) and Global Population Speakout.

Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Boomers Speaking Out.

Comments for What You Should Know About Paris COP21

Average Rating starstarstarstarstar

Click here to add your own comments

Dec 10, 2015
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Great Article
by: Fe Rubio

It's good to know that many people are becoming conscious of the environment. We must be responsible on these environmental impacts that are evident nowadays. Nobody can mitigate these impacts but humans since we are the ones occupying mother earth.

Dec 01, 2015
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Gratitude
by: Douglas Yazell

Thank you for that post. I am also volunteering in many ways to take action on climate change. Your summary helps. Human-induced climate change requires urgent action (AGU, 2013).

Nov 24, 2015
Rating
starstarstarstarstar
Appreciation
by: Syeda Nishat (Climate Leader)

Thanks! This is a very effective article :)

Click here to add your own comments

Join in and write your own page! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Contributions.


Return to Top of Page  

Like This Page?



Recent Articles

  1. Interview With Jonah Bryson: "If we fail to protect the environment, nothing else matters"

    Nov 07, 16 12:21 AM

    We had the chance to speak with Film Director, Musician and Conservationist Jonah Bryson during TIFF 2016. Bryson has directed “The Fight For Bala”, a

    Read More

  2. Climate is Back

    Nov 07, 16 12:19 AM

    As I engage relentlessly in the fight to mobilize a complacent public and encourage reluctant politicians to focus on climate change action, I’ve come

    Read More

  3. Politicians Need to Break Free From Fossil Fuels

    Nov 06, 16 11:39 PM

    It’s time to break free from fossil fuels! It’s not time to promote pipelines and expand tar sands production in an attempt to create short-term jobs.

    Read More

  4. The Tides They Are A Changin'

    Nov 06, 16 11:18 PM

    We are really screwing up the Earth, and not having another one handy we need to get the message out to change our ways before it's too late. We cannot

    Read More

  5. Dying for Your Planet

    Oct 30, 16 02:51 PM

    Have you ever thought about what you value so much that you'd be willing to die for? What immediately comes to my mind is that I would do anything to keep

    Read More





Alternative Energy

Causes

Effects

Evidence

Facts

FAQ

Glossary

History

How to Help

Quotes

Important News

Sign a Petition!