What was the final outcome of the Paris talks?
An agreement has been reached in Paris about the final wording of a new climate change treaty, that now has to be taken back to each of the countries attending COP21 and legally approved.
There have been disagreements between less developed nations and developed nations about the 2 degree Celsius limit on global temperatures by 2100. It has been put forward a 1.5 degree Celsius limit would be a safer aim for less developed countries, particularly island and low sea level countries where extreme weather can be more devastating to lives and land. So now, countries will try to aim towards this new target if they can, but the 2 degree target is still the official aim.
Giving money to less developed nations was another major issue in the talks; helping them organise their energy plans and technology for the future, as well as help with preventing damage due to the effects of climate change. This was settled by allowing more developed nations to volunteer to give money to these countries.
What happens now?
Parties all over the world are happy an agreement was reached in Paris, but this is just the beginning of tackling climate change and lowering greenhouse gases. The treaty itself needs to be agreed, and this could be the tricky part, as there are nearly 200 countries involved!
Once the treaty is approved, there will be meetings every five years to make sure that everyone is playing their part, and sticking to the plans they had promised in Paris.
What has been happening at COP21 so far?
There have been discussions about whether the 2 degree target might not be possible, and that’s down to plans for thousands of coal fired power stations to be built around the world by 2030.
Some of the most vulnerable nations have stressed how important fighting climate change is to saving their homes and livelihoods. Islands such as Vanuatu in the Pacific Islands are at risk of disappearing if sea levels continue to rise.
Vanuatu has already seen destruction to the island, most recently by a cyclone in March of this year.
So what happens next?
Negotiations will continue in Paris, despite government leaders and Heads of State returning home.
Government officials will stay on, working over the next few days to bring together the plans of each party into one document they can all agree on. There are groups going through the treaty line by line making sure everyone reaches a decision.
Government representatives from countries all over the world will arrive in Paris at the end of November 2015 to fight climate change. But how did we get here and where do we go?
It is widely agreed between scientists that humans hold the majority of responsibility for climate change due to our use of energy, which the United Nations report accounts for 60% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So, surely it’s down to the human race to agree solutions to prevent further climate change?
Well, this is exactly what happened in Paris between November and December 2015. But before we look at the topics discussed, let’s go back to how, when and where it all started…
This was the 21st meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a group formed by the United Nations (UN) in 1992, after the UN was informed by the scientific community of the damage climate change would have on our planet.
There are currently 196 parties in the UNFCCC. They are called parties, because even though they are mainly countries, the European Union as a whole is there as a party too.
The aim of the UNFCCC is to act to stop further damage to the planet. To do this, the member parties meet regularly to decide goals to reach within a set amount of time. For example, the goals set by countries this year in Paris, will start in 2020 once the promises made at a previous UNFCCC meeting in Qatar, 2012 run out.
Goals (or targets as they are better known) can include reducing the amount of CO2 a country produces, or increasing the use of renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.
One of the most important and well known agreements decided by the UNFCCC is the Kyoto Protocol.
In 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, a treaty was formed by 192 parties, each of them promising to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
Treaties are agreements between countries that must be kept; otherwise there will be legal penalties on those countries that do not follow the rules of the agreement.
You might notice there are parties missing between the UNFCCC members and those who formed the treaty; several nations, such as the US, signed the treaty, but did not fully agree to its terms, because they were not happy with what they were being asked to do. Instead, they are focussing on what they can do to reduce their GHG emissions on their own, without any fixed rules set by the UNFCCC.
Coming into force in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol was the first action the UNFCCC had taken since forming in 1992. Developed countries in particular took on the majority of responsibility.
Not every country in the world has contributed equally to climate change, with less developed nations producing a much smaller amount of GHGs, so it’s regarded fair to not penalise them for the actions of developed nations.
This will be set to change in the future, as developing nations grow their energy mix, with China already the world’s largest emitter, and India the third largest. And with this growth comes financial pressure on developing countries to play their part in fighting climate change.
However, one area of the treaty addressed the balance between countries by allowing them to trade carbon allowances with each other. For example, Kiribati, a small island off the coast of Australia with close to zero carbon emissions, could sell their allowance of carbon emissions to Australia, a much larger emitter of CO2 , in order for them to meet their targets, while providing Kiribati with much needed income.
DEVELOPED VS DEVELOPING COUNTRIES
Less developed countries tend to have high levels of poverty, poor health, and low levels of education such as being able to read and write. Developed countries on the other hand are more likely to have a higher standard of living and are technologically advanced.
Energy demand is seen to be linked to economic growth and increase in population, both of which are taking place in several large developing countries, such as China, which is the largest producer of greenhouse gases due to their use of coal.
Now that developing countries are beginning to improve their living standards, they will need to be allowed to continue to grow so they can reach their potential, but will they also need to contribute to global targets, if they themselves are now contributing to greenhouse gases.
20,000 government officials arrived in Paris from all over the world, coming together to try and tackle climate change.
Each party took their proposed plans to;
- Prevent an increase of more than 2 °C in the global temperature above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100.
- Help developing countries financially, as they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change
Pre-industrial temperatures refer to the global temperatures found before we started to rely heavily on coal as a fuel source, burning thousands of tonnes of the material in order to power factories, trains and ships.
Some countries have laid out emergency plans in case of flooding or other disasters to protect their inhabitants and their economy, i.e. Maldives are moving a commercial port to an island that is less at risk of being flooded.
But why is 2 °C the target? Well, scientists have stated that anything higher than a 2 °C increase in global temperature would have a devastating effect on the planet. There would be more extreme weather, such as earthquakes, tsunamis and flooding, all of which leave some nations and areas such as islands and coastal areas extremely vulnerable.
To meet this target, the world will have to make some big choices on how it uses energy in the future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) says that we’ll have to reduce the amount of coal we burn by more than a third by 2040 to have a good chance of keeping temperature rises to less than 2 °C .
With developing countries needing more power, that will mean using more gas and much more renewable energy instead of coal.
Without making any changes, we would be on course to reach an increase of 5 °C in global temperatures, which would cause damage to Earth that could not be reversed.
So there you have it, a brief round-up of what happened in Paris 2015; why these meetings take place, what has come before, and what agreements will hopefully be reached to move forward with slowing down climate change as well as helping those already affected.