The Big Challenges Facing Paris (COP21)


Is this the last chance for world governments to avert the dire risks of climate change? The 21st United Nations conference on climate change COP21 will probably be one of the most important of a generation. Up to 150 heads of state will be attending the conference, albeit under increased security following the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

Most of the countries participating in COP21 have submitted their Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs), which lists each country’s carbon emission reduction goals. The targets agreed are intended to hold nations accountable and prevent global temperatures rising above 20 C.

On Pope Francis’s recent visit to the United States he stressed the importance of tackling climate change head on and not waiting on the next generation to solve it. With this in mind many countries have tried to put forward ambitious INDCs targets.

The United States has put forward INDCs targets of 26%-28% by 2025 based on 2005 levels, which is a slight improvement from the levels agreed in Copenhagen.

China and India two of the largest carbon emitters in the world have put forward INDCs to reduce their emissions by 60-65% and 33%-35% respectively by 2030 from 2005 levels, whilst significantly expanding their use of fossil fuels over the next 15 years.

China was the largest contributor to carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and cements production in 2012 based on a report from Harvard University. China’s cumulative emissions from fossil fuel burning and cement production from 1950–2012 were 130 Gt CO2.

A report by the World Bank entitled Shock Waves : Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty highlighted that over 100million people could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 as a result of climate change. Stéphane Hallegate, a senior economist at the World Bank and co author of the report stated that efforts to stabilise climate change should incorporate strategies to eradicate poverty. According to the report, the world needs to find an additional one trillion dollars each year to boost key infrastructure.

In Copenhagen in 2009, world leaders tried but failed to come to an agreement on carbon emissions. The conference dissolved into chaos and public acrimony between countries and was deemed a failure by many climate change activists.

The general consensus from activists leading up to this summit is that it will not go the way of Copenhagen. Nick Mabey, of environmental lobby group E3G stated “The tone will be more serious, and less festive. Activists will have to find more creative ways to show the world the impacts of climate change. There will be less grandstanding, and more focus”.

The plight of migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and East Africa has concentrated minds, quite rightly, on mass migration and given us some insight into the difficulties of large scale population movement.

The dreadful events in Paris over a fortnight ago will also have stiffened the resolve of many world leaders and make them even more determined to come to an agreement in Paris.

One can only hope that at the conclusion of COP21 world leaders and their negotiators provide us with a blue print of meaningful change.

About the Author Michael Fuller

Michael is a freelance consultant with over 20 years’ experience in industry. He holds an MSc in Climate Change & Sustainable Development and is a member of the Energy Institute. He is passionate about the sustainable future of our planet and is keen to promote a cleaner, safer and healthier environment for future generations. His professional interests include renewable energy, smart networks and sustainable transport.

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