COP21: Beginner’s guide to the UN Paris climate summit
By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News, Paris 29 November 2015 From the section Science & Environment
What is the climate conference for?
In short, the world’s governments have already committed to curbing human activities such as burning fossil fuels that release the gases that interfere with the climate. But that isn’t problem solved. The difficulty comes when you try to get 195 countries to agree on how to deal with the issue of climate change. Every year since 1992 the Conference of the Parties has taken place with negotiators trying to put together a practical plan of action. This year’s COP21 in Paris is the last chance for this process. Negotiators agreed in 2011 that a deal had to be done by the end of 2015. Critics would say the problem of climate change mustn’t be that urgent if it takes 20 years to agree on a solution. But defenders argue that it’s taking such a long time because decisions are taken by consensus, meaning nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. The parties believe that despite this huge limitation, it is the best way of guaranteeing fairness. We all share the planet, they say, so all should have an equal say in what happens to it.
- 1C rise in average temperature since 1850
- 2C agreed ‘gateway’ to dangerous global warming
- 30% rise in CO2 levels since the Industrial Revolution
- 4% decline in Arctic sea ice per decade since 1979
- 9 out of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000
Why does it have an odd name?
COP21 is short for the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. That long winded title was created in Rio in 1992 where countries concerned about the impacts of climate change came together under the United Nations to do something about it. They signed a convention that came into force in 1994 and has now been ratified by 195 countries, including the United States. The key aim is the “stabilisation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”.
Who will be attending?
It’s likely that around 40,000 people from all over the world will participate in the two weeks of talking in one form or another. There are huge numbers of government delegates, mainly civil servants. These groupings range in size from two-person teams to those of several hundred in the case of wealthier nations. There are a lot of lobbyists and representatives from business, industry and agriculture. And representatives from environmental groups from all walks of life. Political leaders will also come to Paris for just one day, to make speeches and encourage their negotiators towards an effective compromise. And their environment ministers will there too, at the end of the talks, to try to shape a final deal.
What are they hoping to achieve?
Think of everything in the world around you. The phone or laptop on which you are viewing this article, the food you might be eating, the clothes you are wearing. Almost everything you see, touch, feel or eat has been grown, built, powered or transported by energy that comes from fossil fuels. They’ve been brilliant for the world – enabling us to industrialise, develop, take hundreds of millions out of poverty. But the carbon dioxide created when we use these materials is having a well documented “greenhouse effect”, trapping heat on the surface of the planet. When the earth warms about 2°C above pre-industrial times, scientists say there will be dangerous and unpredictable impacts on our climate system. And we’re already half way to that danger point, So the purpose of Paris is to work out a way of limiting emissions of greenhouse gases, while allowing countries to continue to grow their economies, and providing assistance to the least developed and those most affected by rising temperatures. Simple? It’s probably the most ambitious international co-operative ideal ever proposed.
What are the key disagreements?
The final destination is a world where temperatures rise not much more than 2°C above the level they were in 1850-1899 period. That’s the long term aspiration countries have already agreed to. But there are big splits between countries on how to get there. Developing countries say they want the right to use fossil fuels, such as oil, coal and gas, to help take their people out of poverty. Rich nations have had unrestricted use of these for 200 years, now it is their turn, they argue. So the Paris deal needs to find a way of balancing the need to cut these gases with the right to use them. The question of who will pay is critical. Who is going to fork out for the transition to renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, for countries that can’t afford it? Who is going to pay to help poor countries adapt to rising sea levels and more intense droughts and heatwaves? Can countries which suffer future impacts of rising temperatures sue the richer countries for emitting gases in the past that might have caused these problems? These are all tricky, contentious and divisive issues. One of the big underlying questions though is fairness. The richer countries say the world has changed since the UNFCCC started back in 1992. Back then the world was divided into developed and developing nations on the basis of income. But the divide is no longer so distinct and the richer nations want a greater number of emerging economies to shoulder the rising costs of climate change in future.
Will any of this make a difference?
Potentially a huge difference. In the 1980s scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer, and international agreement among all the countries of the world, called the Montreal Protocol, set out a way of tackling the problem. Quite quickly the world stopped using the destructive gases that caused the trouble and today the hole is healing. Tackling climate change requires similar methods but on a much larger scale. An ambitious deal in Paris would limit the use of greenhouse gases and put the world on the pathway to lessening the impacts of climate change. But the reality of politics and negotiation means we will probably get a fudgy compromise that will achieve some of that. The belief will be that over time, negotiators will strengthen the deal and ambition will increase. This is not a forlorn hope. Look how far humans can come, simply by iterating and re-iterating an idea until we make it better. I give you smart phones and the internet as examples of this approach. So despite the potential for failure and the likelihood of a messy compromise, one outcome of the Paris conference, weak or strong, is that sustainability will be at the heart of everything we attempt to do in the future. And that would be one of the greatest human achievements.
UN climate conference 30 Nov – 11 Dec 2015
COP 21 – the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties – will see more than 190 nations gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the threat of dangerous warming due to human activities.
Explained: What is climate change?
In video: Why does the Paris conference matter?
Analysis: Latest from BBC environment correspondent Matt McGrath
The Paris climate negotiations, explained
(~ 4 minutes)
YouTube published on Oct 27, 2015 grist.com
Has anyone ever tried to convince you to order something off a menu that you couldn’t afford? Or had a friend buy an expensive appetizer and assume you’ll help split the bill? The dynamic isn’t too far from what’s happening in climate policy right now, with hypocritical, richer countries trying to convince poorer countries that green energy is the way forward. At the end of November, diplomats will gather in Paris for the most high-stakes dinner party yet: Their orders are likely to affect our collective climate future. Check out our video above for all the savory details
Paris by numbers
40,000 – the number of people attending, including 25,000 delegates and 3,000 journalists
147 – the number of world leaders attending “leader’s day” on Monday, including Obama and Turnbull. The order in which they will speak at two consecutive speed-speaking sessions can be found here
196 – the number of countries represented
10,800 – the number of police deployed for the summit – 8,000 on the borders and 2,800 at the venue
Seven – the number of gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol: carbon dioxide (CO2); methane (CH4); nitrous oxide (N20); fluorinated gases (PFC, HFC, SF6); and, since 2013, nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)
2.7C – the warming that will still occur if every country keeps its current promises.
Climate Central Published: November 29th, 2015 By John Upton
Since global climate negotiations began in the 1990s, United Nations delegates have accumulated an idiosyncratic cache of climate diplomacy gobbledygook. Euphemisms have been adopted to mollify specific nations. Acronyms are based on tongue-twisting verbiage from formal agreements.
Here’s Climate Central’s guide to digesting the mumbo jumbo that’s being served up ahead of a key two-week round of climate talks in Paris, beginning today.
What it means:
At the end of every year, a session of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is held, during which decisions that were mulled during lower-level meetings are negotiated and formalized into climate agreements. These sessions are known as conferences of the parties (COPs), and the Paris meeting will be the 21st COP.
What it means:
Unlike the Kyoto Protocol — a 1997 climate pact that sought to force specific pollution reductions on certain countries, but failed to do virtually anything to slow global warming — the hoped-for Paris agreement would see nations taking voluntary steps to stem greenhouse gas pollution. More than 100 countries have already outlined what those steps will be. The climate pledges made by those countries are called intended nationally determined contributions, or INDCs.
What it means:
Carbon cap-and-trade programs, which are popping up across the globe, limit the release of greenhouse gases and tax companies that release them. Some carbon markets already traverse national borders — the European Union trading system covers 31 countries, and California’s program is linked with Quebec’s. Many countries hope a Paris agreement will explicitly allow such international trading as a tool for reducing pollution. The codewords that negotiators have adopted for carbon trading were designed to appease anti-capitalist Latin American governments, which are wary of international markets in general.
What it means:
“Land use, land-use change and forestry,” which is often abbreviated to just “land use,” is responsible for about a quarter of the climate-changing pollution that’s escaping into the atmosphere every year. It remains unclear what role LULUCF will play in a Paris agreement, but it seems certain that it will play a role of some sort.
What it means:
Island states, African nations and other vulnerable countries are pushing for a system that provides funding to help them recover from disasters made worse by climate change, such as rising seas or powerful storms. Developed countries that have done the most to cause global warming fear being asked to shell out limitless compensation for bad weather. To try to assuage the rich countries, the word “compensation” has been abandoned in favor of less-frightening words.
What it means:
This anachronistic term dates back to the Kyoto Protocol, which annexed the richest countries into a single group. Each Annex I country was supposed to achieve specific reductions in greenhouse gas pollution. Economic circumstances have changed since then. Greece is an Annex I country, for example, but its per-capita GDP is less than half that of Singapore, which is a Non-Annex I country. Further, the voluntary nature of the hoped-for Paris agreement means it makes less sense now to lump countries into binary categories based on wealth. Still, “Annex I” references remain littered throughout the text of the draft Paris agreement, because some countries, such as India, have clung to bureaucratic interpretations of equity that others regard as rigid and outdated.
What it means:
The Group of 77 was formed in the 1960s, when it comprised 77 developing countries. It is now a negotiating bloc at U.N. climate talks representing more than 130 nations. It negotiates in partnership with China, even though the Chinese economy is well developed. LDC is a negotiating bloc comprising about 50 of the planet’s least developed countries, such as Burkina Faso, Vanuatu and Myanmar.
What it means:
Small Island Developing States and the Alliance of Small Island States are negotiating groups comprising the nations that are most vulnerable to rising seas. These nations also tend to be poor, making the task of adapting to sea-level rise even more challenging for them — and potentially existential. These countries include Cuba, Haiti and Belize.
For the next two weeks in Paris, the future of the planet’s atmosphere is up for debate. Here, President Obama huddles with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then-British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and other world leaders at the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009.
Photo by Steffen Kugler-Pool/Getty Images
Your Jargon-Busting Guide to the Paris Climate Change Talks
By Eric Holthaus slate.com November 29, 2015
On Monday, more than 140 world leaders will gather in Paris to kick off tense two-week treaty negotiations over the fate of a planet in crisis. If this were about any topic other than climate change, it might even make the news. Granted, there’s been a lot of other news out of France recently—a major climate-themed march in Paris will be canceled for security concerns. And there is going to be a lot of coverage of the Paris climate talks. But it will be nothing compared to the attention that would be paid to a last-ditch meeting to avoid a nuclear standoff—even though climate change is no less dangerous. As Climate Home
previews, “a treaty at this scale has never been accomplished before, and the one under construction will affect the way the entire global economy operates.” Maybe climate change tends to take a back seat because the talks themselves are a jargon-filled monstrosity of diplomatic protocol, which means no one—not even the diplomats themselves!—understands what’s happening half of the time.
Here we are, closing out what’s quite possibly the warmest year since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago, with our atmosphere’s carbon dioxide at record levels and emissions still rising. But, alas, the most interesting drama and diplomatic wrangling are buried in a sea of legalese and acronyms. Case in point: Peru’s environment minister, Manuel Pulgar Vidal—a key figure in recent years at international climate negotiations—recently tweeted a link to a document designed to provide a more-or-less official guide to the Paris talks. It’s titled: “Scenario note on the twelfth part of the second session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.” Not exactly helpful or soul-stirring. So, here is my attempt to translate diplomat-speak to commoner language, focusing on why everyone’s in Paris, what the major sticking points are, and what it all means:
“Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform,” often abbreviated ADP2, especially for hashtagging purposes, is the official title of the international climate talks. Over the last four years or so, representatives from nearly every nation on Earth have gathered about once every three months, primarily in Bonn, Germany. At these preliminary talks, ADP2 laid the framework for a draft agreement—an unwieldy 54-page document. It’s called the “Durban Platform” because back in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, world leaders agreed that the first global climate treaty would be agreed upon in 2015—which brings us to today, in Paris. This mega-gathering is officially the 21st Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, or #COP21 for short.
The text of the Durban Platform contains 1,300 square brackets
that provide different options for wording. For example, here’s what the section on the global temperature target currently looks like:
In Paris, it will be the delegates’ job to eliminate the square brackets in the text.
Among the major sticking points:
How much and how fast should countries reduce their emissions?: The world’s first climate treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was signed by 165 countries in 1992. Enshrined the UNFCCC, is the idea of “common but differentiated responsibility” that although all countries should reduce their emissions, developed countries with historically high emissions—like the United States, Japan, and Germany—should make steeper cuts. Negotiations leading up to Paris produced a series of voluntary pledges, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) designed to allow countries to set their own plans, and then be shamed by the international community into ramping them up. It’s worked, sort of, but since the INDCs alone are not enough, a major topic at Paris will be coming up with a method to keep increasing the rate at which countries cut emissions.
Finance: One way to encourage climate-friendly development that is for rich countries to give poor countries lots of money. Developed countries have already committed to contributions of $100 billion per year by 2020, but there’s still no clear idea on where that kind of money would come from. Many poor countries, to their credit, have hard-coded their finance requirements into their INDC pledges, noting they’d be able to transition to renewable energy much more quickly with help from the international community.
Loss and damage: Even with rapid emissions reductions, there’s still a lot of warming in the pipeline thanks to thermal inertia in the ocean and the inherent lag in the global climate system. Basically, if we stopped all emissions now, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere would quickly stabilize and then slowly decline—but elevated levels would remain for centuries, barring the widespread adoption of some sort of carbon-sucking geoengineering. That means that climate-linked disasters will continue to escalate over the coming decades, and like most disasters, they’ll hit poor and vulnerable countries the hardest. Understandably, these poor and vulnerable countries want a mechanism in place to appeal for aid and help in adapting to future weather extremes.
Ratchet mechanism: Since the Paris talks on their own won’t fix climate change, a key negotiating point will be how often countries should announce bolder targets. Rich countries are generally advocating a ramp-up in targets once per decade, while poor countries say new targets should be agreed upon once every five years. Since the U.N. climate talks operate by consensus, the strategy this time around, to avoid the failures of Kyoto and Copenhagen, is to make everything voluntary. Still, the European Union—especially host country France—wants the Paris deal to be legally binding. That would mean it would need to be approved by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress, which is about as likely as a snowball’s chance in the Oklahoma summer. So, the U.S. is forcefully opposing strict legal language in Paris.
Some other key players to watch:
The G77 + China, which now contains 134 members (with China playing an increasingly minor role) is a major force for the interests of developing countries. China and India
increasingly operate like heavyweight developed countries; they act as a sort of intermediary between the EU/U.S. and the truly threatened countries like Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, and the Maldives. Among the groups advocating for the strongest possible climate deal are the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Vulnerable Countries Forum (V20), and the Least Developed Countries (LDC). Major fossil fuel producing countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia will advocate for the weakest deal possible.
If you’d like to follow along with the negotiations on Twitter, I’ve put together a list that includes the best climate journalists, activists, and diplomats from the talks. No matter what’s decided in Paris, it won’t immediately be enough to bend global emissions to a level consistent with the internationally agreed-upon goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But it probably will be enough to avoid the worst-case scenario. In the cards is a deal that will explicitly, for the first time, advocate for the eventual phase-out of fossil fuel use altogether—something that, absurdly, has never been enshrined in formal language at this high of a level. And that, if done in the next three decades or so, would be worth celebrating.
AJ+ Published on Nov 30, 2015 France placed climate change activists under house arrest for the duration of COP21, and protesters clashed with police in Paris amid an ongoing ban on demonstrations.