The UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is now underway. The goal of this massive meeting is to get 195 countries to agree on a deal that will reduce carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels.
According to the latest IPCC report, the Earth’s average temperature has increased 1.5°F since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1880. This may not sound like a lot, but it has huge and often interrelated impacts. As more and more heat is trapped in our atmosphere by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases, long established weather patterns are being altered. Different regions, therefore, are being affected in different ways. Some places are getting wetter and others dryer. Many areas are also seeing an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. In the Arctic, a region on the front lines of climate change, warmer temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are causing glaciers to melt and consequently sea levels around the planet to rise.
While world leaders agree that this is a global problem and something needs to be done, they have not been able to decide exactly what course of action to take. Developed and developing countries have long standing disagreements about how to deal with this critical issue, which is one of the major reasons why the last two attempts to reach a worldwide climate agreement – Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009 – failed. This time, however, there is a sound basis for some sort of meaningful deal.
Laying the groundwork for this meeting, last year’s Lima Accord made history as all nations agreed for the first time to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in some way. Under that agreement, every country had to submit an “intended nationally determined contribution” or INDC prior to the Paris summit in which they spell out how much CO2 they plan to cut based on their own political and economic situations. But, as they stand now, these collective pledges will not meet the 2°C (3.6°F) goal. Instead, according to a UN report, they would only limit global warming to between 2.7°C and 3.7°C (4.8°F to 6.6°F) by 2100.
The negotiators in Paris have their work cut out for them, especially as any deal will have to pass by unanimous consent. The conference runs through December 11th.