Today marks the start of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21, in Paris. For the next two weeks, negotiators representing nearly 200 countries will work toward reaching a global agreement on how nations should address climate change. Also in attendance are stakeholders from across business and civil society sectors, including the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), which is participating in COP21 as an official observer organization. We asked Jesse Gerstin, CCI’s Senior Policy Manager, to tell us about the challenges and opportunities ahead.
What is COP21 and why is this year’s meeting significant?
COP21 is the twenty-first Conference of the Parties, where the 196 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are invited to convene to work on a resolution to global climate change. The Framework was adopted in 1992 and has resulted in previous agreements such as the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
This meeting is particularly significant given the universal nature of the event. The issue of climate change is one that is now discussed outside of purely environmental circles, and you will see this reflected at COP21 in Paris where more than 20,000 people are anticipated — this includes the climate negotiators themselves and Heads of State, but also numerous business leaders, civil society organizations, and faith groups.
I think the resolve to take universal action on climate change is stronger than ever before. The French Government, which is hosting the conference, has shown this determination by deciding to carry on with the conference despite the recent tragic attacks in Paris, and they’re showing tremendous leadership in working toward reaching a climate agreement.
What are some of the steps being taken to reach a climate change resolution?
In the lead-up to COP21, each country has been asked to make an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) that details its ambition toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions after the year 2020. This approach is both universal and bottom-up and is proving to be highly effective. Already more than 180 nations have publically released their INDCs. And the United States and China jointly announced their INDCs early in the process, showing strong leadership toward the issue from the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.
What are some of the remaining challenges?
An agreement on climate change at COP21 would be a huge step forward, but it most likely would not be enough.
For one thing, even if all of the INDCs are met, the emissions from countries still would not keep global warming to 2 degrees Celsius temperature increase, which is a widely-accepted threshold to avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change. Therefore, negotiators will have to make the agreement in Paris flexible, which will enable countries to amend their INDCs to be even stronger in the future.
A second issue is financing: who is going to pay for the all of the activities outlined in the INDCs? Although the costs of renewable energy technologies have come down significantly in recent years (solar power, for example, has halved since 2010), and analysis shows the unprecedented business opportunities that can come with low carbon development, there are still high upfront costs that will be hard to cover, especially for developing countries. For this reason, governments agreed to set up a $100 billion Green Climate Fund to help with financing. However countries have not yet committed the full amount needed for this fund.
A third issue will be around transparency and accountability of the INDCs to make sure countries stay on track and reach their targets. The Clinton Climate Initiative plays a role in this regard by supporting the countries where we work through better monitoring and project implementation.
What else can you tell us about the Clinton Climate Initiative’s role in Paris?
The Clinton Climate Initiative is an official observer organization to COP21 and will participate in many discussions in the areas of forestry, renewable energy, and oceans where we work. Beyond COP21, the Clinton Climate Initiative plays an important role in helping developing country governments measure their impact, target areas to commit resources, and transition to a low-carbon future, all in the context of helping them meet their development goals.
For example, the Clinton Climate Initiative is working with the Government of Kenya to design a System for Land-based Emissions Estimation (SLEEK), which will assist the government with measuring and planning changes across the land sector.
At the Clinton Climate Initiative, we know that dealing with climate change is an issue that affects all of us and will require governments, businesses, civil society, faith groups, and others to work together. In that sense, climate change is a great unifying issue that each of us has the responsibility to address – as individuals, in our communities, and at our place of work. By bringing countries together, COP21 in Paris provides real hope for the beginning of change.