7 Things To Know About The U.N. Climate Talks In Paris
Leaders from around the world have been converging on Paris for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference. The two-week event is designed to allow countries the chance to come to an agreement on climate change.
Below are 7 questions and answers that are designed to help you understand what the conference is all about and what to expect during and after its completion.
- What’s at stake in Paris?
It’s no exaggeration to say that what happens in Paris will affect and have a big impact on the future of the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions have kept going up, and scientists say that continuing with business as usual will produce rapid and devastating global warming. Unchecked warming means that dependable food and water supplies could be disrupted, dangerous pathogens could spread to new areas, and rising seas could remake maps. What’s more, extreme weather, plus worse droughts and more fierce wildfires, could become increasingly common. In addition security experts even worry that scarce and shifting resources could lead to violence and even wars in the future.
- What needs to be done to mitigate climate change?
Many nations want a Paris agreement that will signal a long-term goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century. Now this commitment doesn’t mean to actually produce zero greenhouse gas emissions across the world that;s not possible. But it does mean producing no more emissions than the planet can absorb without raising temperatures. Now in order to achieve would mean a dramatic transformation of the world’s entire energy system, turning away from fossil fuels to other options like wind, solar, bioenergy and nuclear power. The task at hand is staggering — but scientists and many of the nations leaders say it can be done, if the political will is there.
- I heard this all before, so is there real political will to actually make this happen?
The U.N. and the nations negotiators at the conference believe the stars are aligned like never before. Before the summit, all countries — rich and poor — were asked to come forward with their own voluntary pledges for how they would aid the global fight against climate change and this in itself was a mammoth task that took over 4 years of talks.
Over 150 countries have submitted national plans to the U.N., and that in and of itself is a huge deal. Some nations say how they’ll cut emissions, while others pledge to do things like preserve forest cover or use more clean energy. A consensus of various independent experts have calculated that if the world is currently on track for warming of about 4 to 5 degrees Celsius, these pledges would reduce that to about 2.5 to 3.7 degrees — which is real progress, but no one really knows if this pledges will be enough.
- What does the Paris agreement really need to have in it?
The goal of Paris is to produce and finalise a short, simple agreement from a 56 page document down to maybe a dozen pages or so that will satisfy nearly 200 nations. Here’s what some observers think are key elements for a credible, ambitious plan forward:
- Countries need to agree to come back every five years to increase their pledges and keep doing more and more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- The U.N. must have a rigorous system of accountability and transparency to make sure nations will actually keep their promises and be able to enforce any agreement.
- The poorest countries of the world need support with finance and to both adapt to a warming world and to adopt new, low-carbon energy technologies.
- Why is there a 2 degree Celsius warming limit.
This target comes from an international consensus five years ago, when nations agreed to limit warming to just about 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. The thinking was that this would avert the worst effects of climate change. however in reality very few people believe unfortunately that the Paris summat can achieve this 2 degree celius goal.
Instead, the aim of Paris has shifted somewhat to ensure that all nations can come up with an agreement that requires countries to make increasingly ambitious efforts to combat global warming over time, to put the world on track to meet that target in the future.
- Rich and poor countries are in this together, but will rich countries have to do more?
There’s a lot of tension between the developed world and the developing world when it comes to climate change. Some developing countries such as India say they’re in no position to commit to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gases when they’re trying to bring economic advancement to millions of people who currently live in poverty.
They need a supply of energy, and lots of it. What’s more, poorer nations want financial compensation if they’re going to agree to do things like preserve rain forests that will store carbon dioxide. There argument is that many developed nations chopped down t own forests long ago and have burned enormous amounts of fossil fuels to develop their economies, but now they’re being told they can’t do the same — so they think the developed world should pay up. These “financing” issues are and will be a major hurdle that negotiators will have to clear in Paris.
- What are the other big issues going on in the negotiations?
Besides arguing over how much rich nations should pay the poor, there are some nations that simply are not excited about a zero carbon future. Oil- and gas-producing countries, for example, aren’t so keen to leave their valuable assets in the ground. Another hot-button issue is “loss and damage.” That’s the idea that there should be some mechanism to compensate the citizens of places that simply cannot adapt to climate change — for example, small island states that could disappear under rising seas.
As the conference comes and draws to a close we’ll put up another post to explain what has been agreed and what implications the agreement may well have on climate change, renewable energy and other issues facing the world going forward to mitigate climate change.