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From Kyoto to Paris: Countdown to the COP21
By admin March 1, 2015

In December 2015, the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the UNFCCC is expected to take place in Paris, France as world leaders convene to build on a global framework that tackles climate change once and for all. It has been over two decades in the making, but Paris offers the last promise and potential for finalizing a universal climate change agreement, brining together for the last time national governments, businesses, and civil society organizations to the roundtable. 2014 already witnessed the warmest year on record, with global temperatures rising by about 0.85C (1.5F), resulting in devastations worldwide that has left millions homeless, hungry and in turn causing a new phenomenon of environmental refugees.

The UNFCC COP process has been ardently striving over the years, from Durban to Lima, towards securing a legally binding global climate agreement that would set the course for not only a prosperous planet, but also a new chapter that joins the economy and the environment in a new partnership to see both growth and prosperity.

Yet the road to Paris has been a bumpy one to say the least.  The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997, provided the first roadmap in curbing high levels of CO2 emissions by committing the 192 parties who have signed the agreement to setting internationally binding emission reduction targets. However, it failed to bring on board the most notorious greenhouse gas contributor–the United States–on concerns that it would cause serious harm to the US economy. Moreover, it exempted enormous polluters like India and China off the hook due to their countries developing status, and in turn made the commitments appear unequal for it largely tilted the responsibilities on the shoulders of developed economies.

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In 2009, the UN Climate Summit held in Copenhagen produced an accord recognizing the scientific merits for keeping temperature rises at 2C (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial records, however, it failed to produce any significant changes in the international communities commitments to emissions reductions, and instead had the chief negotiator for the G77 group of 130 developing countries, Lumumba Di-Aping, commenting that the agreement had “the lowest level of ambition you can imagine,” and furthermore stressing, “It’s nothing short of climate change skepticism in action. It locks countries into a cycle of poverty forever.”

Many African and developing countries were largely disappointed by the unambitious target of 2C from the originally planned 1.5C in previous drafts, with the most grandiose goal of reducing global CO2 emissions by 80 percent discarded once negotiations began. Tensions further arose over whether to abandon the Kyoto protocol’s legal differentiations between developed and developing countries, with President Obama suggesting developing nations moving past that mindset “and moving towards the position where everybody recognizes that we all need to move together”.

Of course the deals that come out of Paris will not be a miracle fix to the centuries long environmental destruction industrialization has brought about. But there is a glimmer of hope in reversing the negative trends that now have some of the biggest emitters– the United States, China, and the European Union–outlining bold plans to limit greenhouse gasses, and working together instead of separately to see these targets become realizations. Moreover, national governments are drawing on the business community to share the responsibilities and commitments that these targets would set, making this a truly universal framework for change. With ten months to go, the time is ticking, the world is watching and Mother Nature is nervously waiting.

For more information:

World Resource Institute

Paris 2015

The Energy Collective

United Nations News Centre

The Times

Paris Climate 2015: Make it Work

Scientific American


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