Top 5 things to know about COP21

World leaders are currently coming together in Paris for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21. This two-week event is intended to give countries the opportunity to come to a contractual arrangement on battling climate change.

Below we compiled the 5 top questions and answers to help prepare you for the next 2 weeks of topics and what to anticipate after its conclusion.

  1) Why should I care specifically about this summit, hasn’t the UN been trying to stop global warming for over 2 decades?

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the future of our planet is in the hands of those at the Paris summit right now.  Greenhouse gas emissions keep rising and that continues the devastating and rapid acceleration of global warming.  This doesn’t just mean warmer winters and hotter summers, global warming means that reliable food and water supplies could be disrupted, deadly diseases could spread to new areas, and rising seas could wash away islands and remake entire maps.  Changes in weather patterns also cause draughts, wildfires, and panic which can lead to violence.  Perhaps this is more reason to care, besides polar bears losing their homes.  Now the reason why this summit in Paris is different from the rest, is because world leaders have finally acknowledged all the above.  They see the tide turning and feel the pressure to participate to battle climate change, since it does and will affect every country around the world.  While past discussions have come up short, this time there is an agreement that steps and actions need to be taken, and countries are finally ready to take them.

2) What does the Paris agreement need to have?

The end goal at the completion of the Paris summit is to have a simple agreement, maybe only several pages long, that will satisfy the nearly 200 nations participating in it.  The agreement will hopefully have the following three elements, to get the world started on an ambitious plan going forward:

  • The UN has given the goal for limiting global warming to 2C. They must now set a rigorous system in place for accountability and transparency to make sure all the nations involved keep their promises.
  • The developing countries will need support and help to adapt to global warming and how to adopt low-carbon energy technologies. The agreement has to allow such support so that developing countries feel they are capable of doing their part.
  • This cannot be a one and done agreement, there needs to be continuous summits in place every few years to increase pledges and do more to reduce greenhouse gases.

3) Both rich and poor countries are taking part in this agreement, however will rich countries have more responsibility to fix the problem?

This is definitely a hot debate which world leaders will have to face in the coming days.  Developed countries believe the burden should be shared equally among all countries, however developing countries are currently in disagreement.  Many believe that the developed nations played a bigger role in creating global warming, and therefore should be responsible for more when fixing the problem versus the developing nations.    Another issue that developing countries face is trying to bring economic development to the millions that live in poverty while committing to a reduction in greenhouse gases.  Finally developing countries see all that developed countries have done to diminish the environment from burning enormous amounts of fossil fuels to chopping down forests upon forests and feel that it’s unfair that they’re being told they can’t do the same.  These countries feel they should receive some sort of “financial” compensation if they agree to preserve land needed to slow climate change when developed countries previously chose not to do their part.

4) What will the biggest fights be over during the negotiations?

Besides the obvious topic of how much the wealthier nations should pay versus the poorer nations like discussed in the previous question, another argument will come from several countries who don’t necessarily want a zero carbon future.  Some countries that are known for oil or gas are not thrilled about the idea of keeping their valuable assets untouched and in the ground.  One last hot-button issue stems from the idea of “loss and damage.”  It’s the idea that some countries and citizens will simply be unable to adapt to climate change — this is the case for small island states that will easily disappear under rising sea levels.  The thought is to compensate these people and areas in some way for them to survive.

5) What if the Paris summit ends without an agreement?

Scientists keep saying that by delaying any action on climate change, it makes it more difficult and much more expensive to fix in the future.  In simple terms, globally this climate revolution should’ve made headway decades ago.  Predictions are telling us that the longer we rely on fossil fuels to the extent that produces uncontrollable climate change, dramatic shifts (more than we’ve seen so far) will appear in our weather patterns.  Just one example is that New York has the potential to mimic Miami’s year-round climate.  Also, as the earth continues to warm and ice continues to melt, it would flood major cities around the world, hitting third world countries the hardest since they have the fewest amount of resources to adapt.

So with all that being said, we’ll be watching and waiting– hoping for the best outcome of the COP21 summit this week.

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