COP21: What is it all about?

This article is contributed by Jovin Hurry, who is reporting from Paris.

What is happening?

This December 2015 in Paris, France will be chairing the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21/CMP11).

What is COP and CMP?

The Conference of the Parties (COP) was created during the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. It is the supreme body of the Convention, bringing together all Parties: the 195 countries that have ratified the Convention and the European Union. It convenes every year to review the Convention’s application, adopt decisions which further formulate the rules set out, and negotiate new commitments.

Representatives from all non-state players of society (including constituencies of intergovernmental organizations, environmental non-governmental organizations, local governments, unions, businesses, scientists, young people, women, farmers and indigenous peoples) also take part in these conferences.

Since 2005, when the Kyoto Protocol entered into force, it has been combined with the annual meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP).

Why is this conference crucial?

This Conference is crucial because it needs to result in a new international climate agreement applicable to all countries.

What is the problem?

The leaders are tackling the phenomenon of climate disruption. Human activities generate “anthropogenic” greenhouse gases, distinct from the greenhouse gases naturally present in the atmosphere. Those greenhouse gas emissions alter the atmosphere’s composition, causing the increased greenhouse effect that is leading to global warming.

The seven greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol are: Carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N20), Fluorinated gases (PFC, HFC, SF6), and Nitrogen trifluoride, since 2013 (NF3).

How much greenhouse gases are out there?

The greenhouse gas emissions covered by the Kyoto Protocol have increased by 80% since 1970 and 30% since 1990, totalling 49 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq) in 2010.

In 2010, developed countries accounted for 18% of the global population, 54% of GDP and 36% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Global greenhouse gas emissions by economic sectors are: 35% Energy production, 18% Industrial production, 14% Transport, 14% Agriculture, 10% Deforestation, 6% Buildings, and 3% Waste and water treatment.

What is the consequence of these greenhouse gases?

Under current global emissions trends (+2.2% per year between 2000 and 2010), the rise in average global temperatures should come to between 3.7°C and 4.8°C by 2100.

What needs to be done to combat this problem?

The main tasks among others are to limit the atmospheric concentrations to 450 ppm CO2eq by 2100; to keep global warming below 2°C; to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70% by 2050 compared to 2010 levels and to drop them to levels close to zero GtCO2eq by 2100.

What is at stake at COP21?

The new international climate agreement will need to be universal and sustainable. It will need to send economic and political signals to make the economic development model shift to a new path, which needs to lead to carbon neutrality by the end of the century and compliance with the goal of keeping global warming below the 2°C ceiling.

What is inside the new international climate agreement?

The agreement will be comprised of: (1) a legal agreement; (2) national contributions with commitments for 2025/2030, for countries’ efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; (3) a financial aspect; (4) concrete commitments to action by non-governmental stakeholders.

What is the build-up towards this climate agreement?

A long series of climate negotiations aimed at combating climate disruption has been happening.

After the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, the 2005 Kyoto Protocol came into force.

A longer-term vision emerged with the 2007 Bali Action Plan.

This vision was validated at the 2009 Copenhagen with the common goal of limiting global warming to 2°C.

The 2010 Cancun Conference enabled Governments to make this goal effective through the creation of: dedicated institutions for adaptation to the effects of climate change; the Green Climate Fund; and the Technology Mechanism.

The 2011 Durban Platform (ADP) aimed at bringing together all developed and developing countries to work on a “protocol, legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force”, applicable to all parties to the UN Framework Agreement on Climate Change.

The 2013 Warsaw Conference and the 2014 Lima Conference helped take crucial steps towards reaching a universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015.

The “new instrument” will have to be adopted in 2015 and implemented from 2020.

What is done behind the scenes? What various support processes are there that we hardly hear about?

The drawing up a multilateral climate regime involves Heads of State, Government and ministers from both developed and developing countries to discuss the issue. This results in more forums outside the United Nations and its Framework Convention (UNFCCC).

There are political support processes.

They are: G7; G20; Major Economies Forum (MEF), a US-led grouping of the major economies accounting for 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions; Petersberg Climate Dialogue, an initiative launched by Germany in 2010 to facilitate the work undertaken by the successive Chairs of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, held informally and restricted to major negotiation players; and the The Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action, which informally brings together some 40 developed and developing countries that have chosen to rally behind the Copenhagen Agreement, seeking to facilitate continued UN negotiations and effectively combat climate change.

There are sectoral initiatives.

They are the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), an initiative launched by a number of countries and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in February 2012, aimed at focusing technological and financial efforts on reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP) such as methane, black carbon and fluorinated gases.

There is the REDD+ partnership which is a group of some 50 countries representing the major world forest basins (Africa, Latin America and Asia) and major donor countries in the forest sector, to deepen and implement the international mechanism to combat deforestation that emerged from the Copenhagen Conference.

There is the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), a US-inspired process stemming from the MEF.

There are forums linked to technologies and energy, e.g. the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute (GCCSI), and the International Partnership for Energy Efficiency Cooperation (IPEEC).

There are other UN forums.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) look at the emissions from fuel used in air and maritime transport. Since these emissions are difficult to attribute to a particular country, they are not covered by the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol provides that their limitation should be implemented via the ICAO and the IMO.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), hosts the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) is an initiative under the United Nations Secretary General that aims to mobilize all major donors and the private sector around sustainable development projects reconciling development and the energy transition in 70 countries (in Africa, Asia and Latin America).

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