5 Things You Need to Know About the Climate Conference in Paris

24 november 2015

The Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) is set to go ahead as planned later this month. On Monday 16th November, President François Hollande addressed the French deputies and senators who were assembled in Versailles. At the end of his address, which focused on the attacks of November 13th, Hollande made reference to the Climate Conference: “We must continue – continue working, going out, living our lives, influencing the world: this is why the international climate conference will not only go ahead, but will bring hope and solidarity.” So here are five things you need to know about COP21 and why it is so important.  


1. What is COP21 and who will be there?

In 2015 COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°C. The Conference will take place in Paris from November 30th - December 11th.

COP21 stands for the Conference of Parties which is an annual meeting consisting of the 195 members who have signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which came into effect in 1994. The conference will be attended by world leaders and high-level ministers of all the world’s 190 governments, who have the power to sign a deal on behalf of their countries. Major corporations and non-governmental organisations will also be present. From Ireland it is expected that the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Minister for the Environment, Alan Kelly TD, will attend. A number of Irish based NGOs will also attend.

The conference will allocate US$100 billion in funds to help nations to contribute to lowering emissions. The current agreement runs out in 5 years time and many of the targets have not been met. COP21 is an opportunity for countries to re-commit and set a longer term agreement.

2. Will the outcome of this conference actually affect people's lives, in communities around the world?

The effects of climate change can be felt by people all over the world, in many different ways. However, climate change often affects poorer populations at a disproportionate level. The World Bank Group reported that by 2030, 100 million more people could be forced into extreme poverty because of climate change. As the average global temperature rises it can lead to water shortages and decreases in farmable land that push the poor further into poverty.

Climate change also exacerbates existing problems such as climate-related natural disasters, shortage of natural resources, migration and displacement, which affect people around the world. Addressing these issues now at the Paris conference is necessary to be able to work towards the global goals (SDGs) and achieve a more sustainable future for people and planet. The Sustainable Development Goals are a global agreement to eradicate extreme poverty and tackle climate chaos by the year 2030. The conference in Paris is a key part of this roadmap for the world towards achieving this goal. In this way, climate change and international development are intrinsically linked. 

To put it more succinctly - combatting the effects of climate change can save lives and protect the planet for the next generation. 

3. If climate change is so important, do we not already have an agreement?

Agreements have been made in the past, but the problem lies in making these agreements legally binding. The road to Paris has seen several agreements so far:

  • The first major agreement on climate change happened in the 1992 summit in Rio de Janeiro which established the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The conference bound governments to take action to combat climate change, but it failed to name any specific actions leaving the agreement too open ended for any concrete results to come of it. 

  • The next major agreement came in 1997 with the Kyoto Protocol. This Protocol aimed to enforce a worldwide 5% cut in emissions by 2012, but faltered when the United States refused to ratify the agreement. Without the U.S, the Kyoto Protocol did not come into force until Russia signed on in 2004, but the protocol was already weakened. The Kyoto Protocol did not give any targets for developing countries to meet and allowed them to increase their emissions unrestrained which has become an issue in countries like China.

  • The Bali Road Map came in 2007 and set up the basic framework for a more in-depth agreement to be reached at COP15 in Copenhagen two years later. At Copenhagen, nations agreed to establish an international cooperative effort to raise US$100 billion per year by 2020 to aid developing nations in adjusting to climate change. On top of this, nations committed to making cuts in their emissions that reflected scientists’ recommendations and which also distributed the burden fairly among nations, though the equity of such cuts has not been keenly adhered to.

4. What is expected to come out of this Conference?

An international, legally binding treaty that holds governments to account on their commitments to tackle climate change.

In order to achieve this, all states have been asked to submit their commitments ahead of COP21. That’s where Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) come in. These are the pledges that countries responsible for more than 80 percent of emissions have made towards reducing their carbon footprints in advance of the talks. However, these aren’t legal commitments. These are merely indications of intentions. The goal in Paris will be to try and get parties to agree a legally binding treaty which will ensure these commitments come to fruition. It is expected that the agreement reached at COP21 will enter into force in 2020, the year that all current commitments on greenhouse gasses expire. As is the goal, it is expected that COP21 will result in a legally binding agreement to implement current solutions to climate change and aid nations in adjusting to the ongoing effects of global warming while still working towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some key points:

  • The path we're on at the moment: Current projections put the average rise in global temperature between 3.7℃ and 4.8℃ by 2100. In order to achieve the goal set by COP of 2℃, emissions need to be reduced by 40-70% by 2050. The intended result of the conference is to establish a binding agreement to put nations en route to that goal.

  • Where the conference comes in: The conference puts additional pressure on nations to acknowledge their impact on the environment by publishing their national efforts to combat climate change in order to ensure that each nation is contributing.

  • What is the plan: We know already what the biggest emitters have committed to. The EU will cut its emissions by 40%, compared with 1990 levels, by 2030. The US will cut its emissions by 26% to 28%, compared with 2005 levels, by 2025. China will agree that its emissions will peak by 2030.  It is worth noting, however, that the current INDCs put forth by nations do not meet this goal, instead they come closer to 2.7℃.

What next: To put this into action, the agreement reached in the Paris Climate Conference will be facilitated by the Agenda of Solutions after the conference. The Agenda of Solutions is an organisation that came out of the New York Climate Summit in 2014 in order to encourage the exchange of information between nations and take concrete steps towards addressing climate change. The organisation aims to encourage more stakeholders to commit to combating climate change, and to present solutions that currently exist and can be expanded on, as well as monitoring nation’s contributions.

5. What is Ireland's role and how can people in Ireland get involved?

In proportion to other EU nations, Ireland is one of the highest emitters of greenhouse gasses. In October, the Dáil passed the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development bill in an attempt to ensure that the government had an action plan in place to work towards reducing emissions. The bill is currently in the Seanad and is expected to become law on 8 December and it has come as the result of slowly mounting political pressure from all sides of the spectrum and pressure from domestic NGOs. Internationally Ireland has pledged €2m to the Green Climate Fund which is far below what comparable nations have pledged. NGOs have responded critically, saying that Ireland has not been playing its part to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

In the Paris conference, Irish NGOs urge leaders to set legally binding, ambitious targets for countries to reduce emissions, promote the rights of the most vulnerable in developing countries and ensure that financial support is given to developing countries. People in Ireland can also show their support by joining the Dublin Climate March on November 29th (see below for further details).


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