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Climate change update : COP21 in focus

Climate change update : COP21 in focus

Dr Belén Olmos Giupponi gives us an up-to-date summary on the COP21 climate change talks.

After a week of intensive talks, the 21st session of Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris has gotten to the crucial point, reaching the peak and are approaching a deal. As negotiations unfolded different aspects were revealed, in particular, some details of the future deal have come to light. The outcome is, essentially, a shorter draft aiming at a quicker deal. To avoid last-minute frenzy, the French Prime Minister, racing against the clock, has rallied to get it done. Although the text represents an advantage with regard to the current agreement and status quo resulting from Copenhagen COP15 there are still many uncertainties.

Why this COP is crucial?

Since the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992, climate change negotiations have tried to harness collective action on climate change. Up to present under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol the general obligation imposed on industrial countries is to keep up with the threshold of a 2C temperature rise above pre-industrial levels, which is considered by scientists as the limit to stop extreme weather’s harmful consequences. These current commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, established at Copenhagen COP in 2009, will run until 2020. Therefore, the main goal at Paris Conference is to reach a new agreement for the next decade.

One main innovation would consists of the revision of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” under which developing countries have a differentiated regime with lesser obligations and industrial countries carry more responsibilities towards emissions reduction. Many nations have contributed little but they are facing the most destructive effects, such as island states. In addition, there is a fund for least-developed-countries and vulnerable countries. It is foreseeable that the new framework will alter the position of emerging countries, such as Brazil, China or India, which have turned into larger emitters were in a fast-changing landscape.

Ideally, these climate change negotiations will lead to an enduring framework for a low-carbon future representing a real breakthrough. Although countries have submitted their pledges to the UNFCCC Secretariat, they are not deemed adequate to counter the current levels of emissions.

Talking, setting the goals and taking action

During the COP21 negotiations, different proposals and positions have been discussed. Amongst others, India’s proposal of a solar power alliance may represent a game-changer. However, no clear commitment to switch off the coal-fired plants was announced. Separately, industry and private sector put forward the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (launched by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg) which will act as an investment platform for clean energy projects.

While the draft negotiating text for a global deal was discussed different interest were brought to the negotiation table. A major deal-breaker is the 1.5 threshold, strongly questioned by emerging countries which see it incompatible with their economic development. Also, oil-producing countries such as Saudi Arabia threatened to crash the talks. More advanced developing countries were reluctant to the imposition of binding contributions to fund developing countries’ new technologies. Clearly, UN climate negotiations are at a make-or-break point.

The draft agreement is seen as good news since it is more ambitious and comprehensive than the previous one. However, it remains to be seen which parts will be binding and which aspects will enjoy a less significant legal status. The controversial issues are financial and emissions targets (the 1.5C goal pursued by certain developed countries, mainly the EU member states embarked on a far-reaching de-carbonising, resisted by emerging countries and the US). As a starting point, the current text represents a compromise including different options.

In sum, the draft agreement represents the basis for future negotiations. There are several disagreements that still need to be solved by the negotiators of 195 countries to guarantee a turning point in the current regime. Although the general atmosphere of Paris COP21 seems to be more fruitful than Copenhagen, the success will ultimately depend on the parties’ political will to accept a new state of affairs.

21st Century Stats


Originally launched: 1999.

Relaunched: January 1st, 2016.

Contributors: 70 contributors including futurists, engineers, teachers, writers, 23 doctors and 7 professors.

Created by: Clifford White.

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