Overview of Cop21
The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21), took place in Paris, France (Nov 30 – Dec 13, 2015). With more than 30,000 delegates and diplomats from the 195 countries that participate in the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, it was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders in history.
In general, the purpose of the Conference of the Parties (COP) on Climate Change is to continually assess each nation’s progress in dealing with climate change, to set goals for reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions, and to negotiate agreements on targets. This is the 21st meeting, with the first occurring in Berlin in 1995. Over the course of the past 20 years, few agreements have been reached (ex: Kyoto Protocol-1997, Montreal-2007, Denmark-2009), and most are ultimately viewed as failures for lacking binding agreements or not bringing all countries on board.
Below are details about the purpose and main challenges of Cop21:
- Main Goal: To achieve a legally binding universal agreement to keep global warming below what most scientists say is the critical threshold of 2 degrees Celsius of Warming.
- Challenge: Addressing the different responsibilities of developed and developing nations in paying for the current global problems related to human enhanced climate change, and determining who will pay for low-carbon initiatives in emerging economies.
There were also a number of summits and exhibitions that occurred throughout Paris that involve business leaders (World Climate Summit), local governments (UCLG), and everyday people in the momentum of what the world hopes is an exciting turning point in the fight against Climate Change.
See video or articles (CNN and NPR) for more details on what Cop21 was and why it matters.
Lead Up to COP21
Momentum for COP21 had been building for well over a year, starting with The United Nations Climate Summit in New York in September 2014 (learn more here). This one-day summit was a precursor to COP 20, “Lima-Paris Action Agenda,” which successfully prepared the agenda for COP 21, and urged countries to pledge a commitment to reducing green house gas (GHG) emissions prior to December 2015.
In an unprecedented turnout, just before the summit, over 150 countries (rich and poor) submitted their plan to the U.N., with some committing to cutting emissions, other to using more clean energy, and other preserving more forest cover (see pledge submissions here, or NY Times infographic here. According to the NY Times (2015), independent experts calculated that if the world is currently on track for warming of about 4.5 degrees Celsius, these pledges would reduce that to between 2.7 – 3.7 degrees — amazing progress before the Paris Summit even started!
Similar to the People’s Climate March of 2014, the lead up to COP21 also involved activists marches in cities across the world. Activism began in the Bay Area first with the NorCal Climate March that took place on November 21st. Students from S-Corps represented O’Dowd’s Sustainability Department.
Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets between November 28th-29th see reports here (350 and BBC). Due to heightened security after the terror attacks in Paris, the Paris march was cancelled; however, activists enacted a “virtual march” with 10,000 pairs of shoes on display in Paris.
Pope Francis made his voice heard in the lead-up to the COP21 by sending his shoes (along with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon) to be present at the “virtual march” (read more here). During his address from Nairobi (Nov 26th) to the United Nations, Pope Francis also urged leaders to take a stand at COP21 stating that, “It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic, were particular interests to prevail [at COP21] over the common good” (read more here).
Cop21 First Week
It is clear that the world took COP21 seriously. Intensity was high with so much at stake, but the level of energy remained high throughout the first week.
The opening session was the largest gathering of world leaders ever, and it featured clear statements from more than 150 heads of state, accepting responsibility for delivering an ambitious and equitable climate agreement. Powerful speeches from leaders like UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama (see text here, or video here) ensured that the conference kicked off with positive momentum.
By all accounts, the first week ended successfully, as leaders accomplished what they were called to do, which was an agreement on the Climate Change Draft Plan (learn more here). The draft lays out three broad goals:
- 1) “To hold the increase in the global average temperature [below 1.5 °C] [or] [well below 2 °C] above preindustrial levels by ensuring deep reductions in global greenhouse gas [net] emissions;
- 2) “To Increase their ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change [and to effectively respond to the impacts of the implementation of response measures and to loss and damage];
- 3)”To pursue a transformation towards sustainable development that fosters climate resilient and low greenhouse gas emission societies and economies, and that does not threaten food production and distribution.”
Cop21 Week Two
The world watched as Senior Ministers negotiated during this second week to come up with an agreement that all parties could sign on to. Despite a little scare and need for extended time on Friday, the outcome of the Paris Climate Conference (Cop21) was a success, as every country involved agreed to take part in universal binding agreements.
Learn more about this historic turning point with the excellent coverage in the articles below.
- NY Times Coverage: “Nations Approve Landmark Climate Accord in Paris”
- WSJ Coverage: “Nations Unite in Global Agreement on Climate Change”
- NCR Coverage: “Nearly 200 Nations Adopt Historic Paris Agreement, Set Path for Action on Climate Change”
- NPR Coverage: “Nearly 200 Nations Adopt Climate Agreement at Cop21 in Paris”
- USA Today: “5 Takeaways About the Climate Agreement”
California should feel especially proud about the outcomes of COP21, as Governors Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger (former) teamed up to share California’s Climate Agenda, and inspired over 123 ambitious states and regions (subnational governments) to agreed to the most stringent binding agreements – reducing their greenhouse gas emissions 80-95%, or limit to 2 metric tons CO2-equivalent per capita, by 2050 (learn more about the Under2MOU agreement here).
After years of difficult negotiations and an intense two-week final summit, the world marches forward with a clearer path to mitigating global climate change.