Paris United Nations Climate Conference – All You Need To Know

UN Climate Conference Heads of State Paris, 2015 Attribution: UNClimateChange Creative Commons

UN Climate Conference Heads of State Paris, 2015 Attribution: UNClimateChange Creative Commons

There is a lot of talk and hype about the United Nations Climate Conference or COP21 which is taking place in Paris, France, November 30-December 11, 2015. More then 150 heads of state are expected, as are government representatives from over 190 countries. In addition, 10’s of thousands of additional people including representatives of non-governmental organizations, civil society, i.e. social justice and environmental organizations, world media, company representatives, and just “regular folks” will be in Paris for the Climate Conference.

The Conference is touted by many as our “last and greatest hope” for solving the climate crisis. In his address at the opening of COP21 on November 30th, President Obama stated: “Let that be the common purpose here in Paris. A world that is worthy of our children.” Will all our climate problems be solved if countries reach an agreement in Paris? What will the Paris climate agreement really look like and will it truly be “worthy” of our children?

So that you can be “in the know” and have the facts, we have prepared a short “cheat sheet” that answers some basic questions about the conference, including what to expect. We want you to be able to easily share this information with the kids in your life, with your family and with your friends. As Climate Mamas and Papas we know that people look to us to help them understand the facts. Our Executive Director and Climate Mama extraordinaire, Harriet, who worked on and attended many of the meetings on climate held at the United Nations, including the first United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, will help us make sense of what is going on in Paris.

Attribution: Cayce, Creative Commons

Attribution: Cayce, Creative Commons

A KEY point and one to keep in mind when reading anything about the UN Paris climate conference is: We ALREADY know what each country has committed to do to reduce it’s greenhouse gases. County plans from over 150 countries have already been submitted to the United Nations and are publicly available. And we know, because scientists have “added up” these commitments, that as currently written, these plans will NOT get to where we need to be. However, most scientists agree that current commitments are a clear and positive start forward. But, as the saying goes, getting “close” only counts when playing horseshoes. So, we want to reiterate our ClimateMama mantra and remind our world leaders: “Tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, and don’t be afraid.” We must go farther, faster and we must go together….Our future, and that of our children depends on this!

The Paris Climate Change Talks: All You Need to Know

What makes this UN Climate Conference different than previous conferences?
Government representatives, policy folks, scientists, environmentalists and media that cover and attend these meetings, all agree that THIS Climate Conference represents a critical turning point. This Paris Conference is being looked at as a powerful “signal” for real and sustained action. All governments are in agreement about the seriousness of the crisis the world faces, even if they are all not on the same page about the order and magnitude of what needs to be done to slow down the crisis that we all face. In addition it seems that all over the world – “regular people” (and that means us) – in addition to politicians, environmentalists and journalists, have also woken up to the fact that climate change isn’t something of the distant future, but is in fact happening now.

Photo credit: Energy Action Coalition

Photo credit: Energy Action Coalition

This turning point, and the pressure from many sides to do something real, comes at a point in time when the United Nations Climate talks must move beyond the international agreement level, and translate clearly into concrete plans which can be implemented at national, regional and local levels as well. Kicking the “can” down the road, or setting broad targets, with no clear and defined way of getting there, is no longer acceptable. Each country represented at the Paris Conference is bringing along their country plan, known in UN circles as it’s INDC, which lays out how it will achieve it’s targeted greenhouse gas reductions. Our job, will be to make sure that these plans are implemented.

What are the expected and hoped for outcomes?

The expected outcomes:
*A clear commitment to review and revise country climate plans or pledges (INDCs) at regular and frequent intervals, 10 and 5 year time periods are currently being discussed.
*A clear way to show that countries are actually lowering their emissions and sticking to their plans.
*Stronger and clearer finance commitments to help implement developing countries plans that will not only slow and reverse greenhouse gas levels and adapt to climate changes, but to also cover “loss and damage.” This third pillar, along with “adaptation and mitigation” is to account for sudden disasters and sea level rise. For many developing countries, which are feeling the impacts of climate change the worst, and who have contributed to it the least, this financing piece, is critical.

The hoped for outcomes:
*A long-term goal, beyond 2020 to be reached by 2050 or 2100, which lowers greenhouse gases and keep temperature rise below 2 degrees C.
*A clear commitment, that the “age of fossil fuels” is over and that we will get there before the end of the 21st century; this must include an immediate removal of all fossil fuel subsidies.
*Private and public funds that add up to the promised $100 billion annually, beginning in 2020 that is needed to assist developing countries address climate change.
*Carbon pricing, with an agreed fee on all carbon emissions.
Protection of critical forest resources (carbon sinks – areas that absorb greenhouse gases).

googleimagesvotingWhat happens after Paris and What Can I do?
What happens after Paris is critical and each of us has an important role to play. It will be key that each of us let our elected officials know – at every level of government – that we are watching what they are doing on climate change and we want to see, hear and understand their concrete plans. We know that it is highly unlikely that the Paris agreement will be “legally binding” in it’s entirety. This is because, in a very basic sense, many countries require that international treaties be ratified by their congress or parliament. In a country like the United States, a country which is critical to the success of the conference, it is clear that the current US Congress would not ratify a treaty requiring the lowering of US greenhouse gases. So, a treaty that is legally binding, would likely not include the United States the second largest emitter in the world. However, many countries that are attending the Climate Conference in Paris feel strongly that a “binding treaty” IS a key outcome. So look for some “wiggle room” and ambiguity coming from the final documents adopted at the conference. While a treaty – in it’s “entirety”- might not be adopted, it is possible that parts of it might be, i.e. agreements reached for regular reviews of pledges as well as a long term goal.

Sadly, even with a clear urgency that threatens the very future of our children’s existence, many climate deniers still currently walk the US halls of Congress; moving forward this doesn’t have to be the case. We need to make sure that climate solutions are front and center for all elected officials. With US presidential elections in 2016, it will be crucial that those of us living in the United States vote, and that our neighbors, friends and family vote too. This applies across the world as well. Where ever you live, we all must let our candidates and elected officials know that climate solutions must be a central part of their policies and programs.


Climate Mama

ourkidsclimatelogoP.S. Join us and SIGN ON today as we demand that world leaders adopt a strong agreement in Paris that will protect us all and ensure a livable world for our children to grow up in.
Key Definitions for the United Nations Climate Conference
When I left the United Nations, one of my first thoughts was: “Will I ever put all this information to use again?” At the UN, there are SO many acronyms bantered about each and every day, that if you “aren’t in the know” you will have no way of understanding what people are talking about. Part of my job at the UN included being an “expert” on all these acronyms. So, as a primer for the current Paris talks, I am happy to put my knowledge to use and share some of these acronyms and a short definition of what they stand for – with you!

shutterstock_11256511Earth Summit – The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, better know as the “Earth Summit” was held in Brazil in 1992. The primary goals of the conference were: to come to an understanding of “sustainable development” that would support socio-economic development and prevent the continued deterioration of the environment, and to lay a foundation for a global partnership between the developing and the more industrialized countries, based on mutual needs and common interests, that would ensure a healthy future for the planet. (Source – United Nations) Among the outcomes or the Earth Summit, were two legally binding the UNFCCC and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. While these two outcomes were “binding,” and governments needed to have the decision to join these bodies ratified, binding in this case is rather an empty word, in that there are no enforcement mechanisms and no agreed targets to hold signatory countries accountable for.

UNFCCC – The United Nations Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The Convention came into force in 1994 and signatory countries are required to report on their progress in addressing climate change. (Source – United Nations)

COP21 – Conference of the Parties, 21st Session. This is the 21st time that the COP is meeting. It meets annually, and held it’s first meeting in 1995. COP is the decision making body of the UNFCCC.

Kyoto Protocol – In 1997, the COP meet in Japan and agreed on the “Kyoto Protocol” which set targets binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions, with tougher targets for developed countries. This agreement came into force in 2005, without the US as a signatory. In refusing to ratify the treaty which the US had signed off on, the US Congress sited the fact that many large “polluters” including China, India and Brazil, were not included in the Kyoto Protocol as they were deemed to be developing countries. The Kyoto Protocol was set to expire in 2012, but was extended in 2012 to 2020, with the agreement that a new Pact would be finalized in 2015, at COP21.

Two degrees C – In 2010 at COP 16, world leaders first agreed that global temperature rise from pre-industrial levels (before 1850) must be kept below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). Scientists tell us that many small island will not survive a 2 degree C temperature rise and that this threshold must be much lower, closer to a 1.5 degrees.

IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 and tasked with creating a comprehensive review of the state of the knowledge on climate change, through Assessment reports released every 5 years. The 5th and most current Assessment Report was released in 3 parts between September 2013, and November 2014.

INDC – Intended Nationally Determined Contributions a fancy way to say: “a country’s report on how it will meet it’s obligations to reduce it’s greenhouse gases, and adapt to climate change.” These reports are non-binding, meaning there is no way to enforce a country’s intended plans. The United States INDC can be found here.

Any questions? Send them our way!

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2 Responses to Paris United Nations Climate Conference – All You Need To Know

  1. Pingback: COP21 in Paris: “Last & Greatest Hope” for Solving Climate Crisis | Green4All Blog

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