This week marks the beginning of the Paris Climate Conference, or the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21). Nearly 50,000 delegates representing almost every country in the world have gathered in Paris in hopes of achieving an agreement to cut CO2 emissions and stop global temperatures from increasing by 2 degrees Celsius.
Attendees of the Conference include President Obama, Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, all of whom have shown their support for the initiative and have made specific pledges for cutting their countries’ CO2 emissions. The United States, which leads the world in greenhouse gas emissions per capita, has pledge to cut emissions by 26% by 2025 while China, the world’s leader in total emissions, has pledge to stop growth by mid-century.
The conference in Paris comes just three weeks after the deadly terrorist attacks in France’s capitol that killed 130 people. The attacks were partly attributed to Europe’s influx migrant crisis which itself has been linked to drought and harvest failures arguably caused by climate change.
Unlike previous unsuccessful climate accords such as the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 or the Copenhagen Accords of 2009, this year’s conference is different in that all the countries have publicly made pledges and laid out plans for their individual cuts to emissions before hand which means, barring any unforeseen hiccups, an agreement should be reached soon as delegates hash out the minute details of the accord.
One argument that has been waging for months is if all countries should pledge to cut equal amounts of CO2 emissions or if the richer, more industrialized countries should carry a majority of the weight giving poorer, less developed countries time to grow economically and bring more of their citizens out of poverty. Another discussion is how much money the more developed countries should give to less developed countries in order for them to switch to alternative forms of energy while still maintaining economic growth.
A chief criticism of this year’s accords are that they will not be legally binding, leaving every country up to their word and not much else. There has been nearly unanimous support for the agreement, however, as global leaders recognize the dangers climate change poses on their individual countries and the world as a whole.
The same cannot be said within the United States, however, as House Republicans have drafted legislation to block any future moves made by the EPA or the Obama administration attempting to expand regulation of emissions or usage. The White House has made clear any agreement reached in Paris will not be considered as a treaty, meaning it will not need to be ratified by the Senate.
A goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius has been set because, according to scientists, any increase beyond that will result in major changes to our world, including but not limited to major flooding, food and water shortages, massive internal displacement, and the loss of biological diversity.
The average global temperature has already increased by about 0.8 degrees Celsius from pre-Industrial Revolution temperatures, most of that change occurring in the last 40 years. Some scientists say capping warming at 2 degrees may not be enough and that we have already gone over the tipping point for large-scale destruction, misery, and loss of life in the near future. Delegates in Paris remain optimistic, hoping there is still time for action.