196 countries will meet in Paris this December for the 21st annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The main objective of the Conference of Parties (COP) is to agree to a new climate deal that will be legally binding and universal, and aim to keep global warming below 2°C.
Climate negotiations historically focused on setting ‘top-down’ targets which drove national action. Today a different approach has been taken which will hopefully yield better co-operation and outcomes. Individual countries have been asked to come forward with their own ambitions and plans for carbon reduction. Commitments, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), have been submitted in the run up to COP21, to pair national intentions, ambitions, circumstances and capabilities with global frameworks. To date 122 countries have submitted.
What impact will it have on climate change?
The big question is whether COP21 will make a meaningful difference to climate change action on the ground. According to a Paris 2015: getting global agreement on climate change by Christian Aid, Green Alliance, Greenpeace, RSPB, and WWF, “Not only is a deal possible but, with the right political leadership, it can lead to ambitious outcomes that will have a real impact on tackling climate change”.
We couldn’t agree more; a global deal is possible and is absolutely necessary. However it needs to be strategic, ambitious and have the right legal framework. It needs to have a long-term approach which will incorporate sustainable and realistic development goals. It also needs adequate financing for the transition to a low carbon economy. Easier said than done – but a strong foundation will be key to its success.
Why is it important?
Current GHG emissions reduction commitments are based on the Kyoto Protocol which runs out in 2020 and only includes the developed world. We need an agreement beyond 2020 which must apply to all nations (both developed and developing) as only global cooperation will achieve the reductions required to keep greenhouse gas (GHG) levels below the 2°C global warming threshold. Above 2°C global warming becomes catastrophic and irreversible. Unchecked we are heading for 5°C! The longer we wait, the more we need to remedy.
What are the stumbling blocks?
Each country faces its own set of vastly different problems, and addressing all contexts is complex. Naturally there are a number of other concerns, ranging from whether targets will be ambitious enough; will funding be forthcoming and sufficient and will implementation be within the timeframes required.
Historically funding is where negotiations have been held up. The developing world, stuck with a climate problem mostly created by the developed world, still has a lot of development to do which will be challenging in a carbon constrained world. The developing world is unfortunately also particularly vulnerable to climate impacts and needs to create more climate resilience. Hence, the developing world needs financial assistance from the developed world to grow and transition in parallel as well as build the necessary resilience within their economies.
Stumbling blocks aside, the previous COP meetings have paved the way and big emitters such as China and the US are in support of reaching an agreement. We are all hoping for a strong deal that will tackle climate change as well as reduce poverty, improve health, build security, and of course avoid the degradation of the ecosystems on which we depend.