What Will the Outcome of the U.N. Climate Change Conference Be?
By admin December 4, 2015



The 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP 21), a two-week event ending December 11th, is taking place in Paris. The goal of many of the attendees is to create an agreement with a long-term goal of net zero emissions (producing no more CO2 than what the planet can handle without rising temperatures in the second half of this century. This plan must be short and simple, experts say, and should require future meetings to increase activity, an accountability system to keep nations on track, and support for poorer countries.

More than 150 countries have submitted national plans to the U.N. on how they plan to cut emissions, save forests or use cleaner energy sources. These plans taken together would result in a decrease of projected warming from 4.5 degrees Celsius to between 2.7 and 3.7 degrees. Some countries, like India, have said they cannot commit to reducing their emissions when they’re trying to pull millions out of poverty. Poorer countries need assistance financing cleaner energy.

Scientists at the Paris climate talks have called for greater use of nuclear energy to reduce reliance on carbon dioxide emitting energy sources like coal and oil. “The numbers don’t add up unless you put nuclear in the mix,” said MIT’s Kerry Emanuel on Thursday. The issue is the lengthy process involved in building nuclear reactors, which may not come online in time to address rising CO2 levels. Oil and gas producers do not want their assets to lose value in a zero carbon future, and have provided some resistance in the talks.

Past agreements have failed to have a major impact. The U.S. refused to join the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and China wasn’t even included in it. The 2009 Copenhagen summit ended with a weak agreement after delegates could not agree on changes. However, the Paris talks seem to have captured a new groundswell of support, as the U.S. and China provide leadership, and Pope Francis urges countries to take action. President Obama has called for a “legally binding” mechanism with “ambitious targets” to reduce emissions and a “single transparency mechanism that all countries are adhering to.” A legally binding agreement would have to be approved by Congress, which may be a stumbling block for the U.S.

New details will continue to be forthcoming as the talks continue; it will be interesting to see whether the final document will be in the form of a legally binding agreement or as simple recommendations.

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