Paris 2015: 21st Climate Change Conference - COP21

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Paris hosted the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from the 30th November to 11th December 2015.  The conference brought together the governments of 196 nations together discuss and agree on a new global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to try and keep global warming below 2°C, to reduce adverse climate change and sea level rise.

The UNFCCC was initially developed at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992; this convention acknowledged the existence of anthropogenic (man-hade) climate change.  Since 1995 there has been an annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the convention to try and bring states together to try and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  In 1997 an international treaty known as the ‘Kyoto Protocol’ was agreed in Kyoto, Japan that set binding greenhouse gas emission reduction targets on 37 industrialised countries.  It required these industrialised countries to reduce overall emissions to less than 5.2% of 1990 emission levels by the year 2012.  This agreement wasn’t adhered to by all nations and the US pulled out as it did not require action from ‘non-developed’ countries such as India and China.

Subsequent COP meetings in Bali in 2007 and Copenhagen in 2009 (COP15) failed to reach an agreement on emission reductions beyond the Kyoto Protocol, but instead allowed for non-binding action to keep global temperature rise to below 2°C.  The COP17 summit in Durban produced the ‘Durban Platform for Enhanced Action’ (ADP) that required all signatory nations to agree to a legally binding protocol in 2015.

The 2015 Paris COP21 agreement has initially been regarded as a success as it has united all nations under one agreement to tackle climate change.  It requires more developed countries to “continue to taking the lead” by reducing their overall emissions whilst allow developing countries to grow but “continue enhancing their mitigation efforts”.  It also allows for the development of a $100bn/year financing agreement by 2020 to help poorer countries to transition to a lower carbon development model and climate change adaption.  The agreement does not allow for liability or compensation for loss and damage caused by climate change.

The full Paris agreement document can be accessed here:

The key elements of the agreement are as follows:

  • To keep global temperatures "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100
  • To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

Now that the agreement is in place the real challenge is for the signatory nations to take action on these promises.

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