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COP21: Will Paris bring about real change?

Surely it hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that COP21 is taking place in Paris right now. COP21, the 21th Conference of the Parties, hosted by the UN organ IPCCC, is a two-week meeting with the main goal of creating a global agreement focused on reducing climate change. During the opening of the meeting more world leaders than ever before gathered to address the importance of an ambitious agreement. Sound like something you’ve heard before? That might be the case; after all there have already been 20 meetings with the same aim. So, what makes the Paris negotiations different?

Many may recall the Copenhagen meeting in 2009, which is often referred to as a failure. The world’s eyes where on the negotiations, and hopes where high in regards to reaching a binding agreement. But, to everyone’s disappointment, the large divides between countries became increasingly obvious. This disagreement was highlighted especially in regards to cutting emissions. Developing countries pressed that they shouldn’t be obliged to reduce their emissions at the same rates as their industrialised counterparts, as they haven’t contributed to historic emissions. Due to the above reasons, and plenty of others, the only outcome of the meeting was the decision to take note of an accord than recognizes the scientific encouragement to keep the temperature increase to no more than 2°C from pre-industrial levels.

The hopeless feeling created in Copenhagen took the environmental movement by surprise and the world’s focus shifted from the matter. No meeting since has attracted as much attention, something that might be regarded as a concern. However, there is a rather simple explanation to this; all the meetings since Copenhagen have been pieces in the process of building up for the Paris agreement.

Apart for COP21 being prepared by a number of meetings beforehand, the main difference this time is the bottom up perspective. This bottom up perspective includes so called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These where supposed to be handed in at the beginning of 2015 to facilitate the process of creating an agreement. This way countries are able to create INDCs that are feasible in their country and by making them a part of the COP21 agreement they will also be internationally, and hopefully legally, binding. Together the INDCs are thought to reach the goal of no more than a 2°C temperature increase worldwide. The bottom up perspective might be exactly what the climate negotiations need, although it is not going just as smoothly as hoped. Not all INDCs are handed in yet (158 to date, representing 186 countries) nor are they ambitious enough. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that if the pledged INDCs would be fulfilled the temperature rise would be about 3.5 °C.

It may be inevitable to meet obstacles when trying to reach an ambitious and legally binding agreement for so many countries, facing such diverse challenges and at such different stages of economic development. But although accomplishing such an agreement might be difficult, it is not impossible. Climate is once again, and this time more than ever, the topic on most politicians’ minds and there are several events that demonstrates this. The United States and China recently signed a historic joint presidential statement where China committed to lowering carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by 60% to 65% and the both parties reaffirmed the importance of an ambitious agreement at COP21.

India, who was late with handing in their INDC and that is many times referred to as one of the parties less willing to commit, just announced the solar alliance including 121 countries. New pledges to the green climate fund are frequently being made, such as the one made last week by Vietnam. Canada, a big emitter that has been an obstacle in the climate negotiations, elected a new leader who is promising that ”Canada is back” in the fight against climate change. Last but not least, even if the United States is unlikely to sign a legally binding treaty, President Barack Obama’s persistency to reach an ambitious agreement in Paris should not be neglected.

Evidently there are plenty of reasons for the global community to hope for more from COP21 than just another a note of an accord. As the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde recently wrote:

Paris recently experienced humanity at its worst. The climate summit will be an opportunity to show it at its best”.

 Kajsa Fernström Nåtby 

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