What’s at stake at the COP21?

December 8, 2015

According to the Government of France, who is hosting the COP21, the objective of the Paris Climate Conference is to come to an international agreement that will limit the rise of the planet’s global temperature to less than 2 Celsius between now and 2100, and to help communities adapt to the existing effects of climate change. This broad overall objective can be subdivided into four categories that address the following specific issues: rising temperatures; voluntary national contributions; climate financing; and false solutions.

Rising temperatures

The first point of contention amongst negotiators is the limit to place on temperature rise. Even if states agreed to limit the temperature rise to 2 Celsius at the Copenhagen talks in 2009, today, several scientists have joined their voices with those of small island nations like Tuvalu to say that 1.5 Celsius must be the limit if climate-induced catastrophes are to be avoided.

Voluntary national contributions

At the COP20 in Lima, it was determined that each country had to set its own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets if the limit in temperature rise was to be achieved. However, as of December 7th, 2015, when all the national targets are taken into consideration, the temperature rise will average 3.6 Celsius . This means, that even when countries set their own national contributions for limiting the rise in temperature, it is not enough to reach the 2 degree limit. This raises the difficult question of potential ‘parasite’ states, those that will not limit their GHG emissions but will benefit from a global reduction in rising temperatures. Lastly, and this answers in part the reservations of ‘parasite’ states, there is the question of ‘how’ this limit will be achieved? Reducing GHG emissions means an inevitable transformation of the world’s, and Canada’s, current economic model, which is based on extracting fossil fuels. How to make this transition remains THE key question for reducing GHG emissions, Once alternative economic models have been agreed upon, it will be less tempting for ‘parasite’ states to be intransigent, since there will be an economic model available to them from which they can prosper.

How to finance the necessary changes and climate adaptations?

This is also a hot topic. How can it be ensured that countries that are contributing the most to climate change contribute to climate financing in a way that is just and equitable? It is what is sometimes called the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility. At the moment, it is the countries that have contributed the least to climate change that are most affected. They also have the least access to the financial and technological resources to confront the impacts of climate change.

During COP15, it was agreed that $100 billion USD would be made available per year starting in 2020, mainly through the Green Climate Fund, to support developing countries in addressing climate change. However, it remains to be decided how much will be contributed by each party, the type of financial mechanism that will be put in place (loans or grants), who will contribute (public funds, private or a mix of both?) and the percentage of funds attributed to adaptation projects versus those for mitigation.

The temptation of false solutions

The last large issue to watch for in these negotiations is the place of false solutions in the agreement. False solution, such as carbon capture and storage, agrofuels and myths around clean coal, do not go to the heart of the cause of climate change: the dominant economic model. We know the solution: an economy built on a local scale, where decentralized renewable energies are available to all, where territorial actors reappropriate energy issues, and where there is energy saving and clean transportation such as public transit by train, bicycle, etc. In terms of agriculture, solutions can be found in support to small family farmers and the agro-ecological practices they can employ, food that is local, fair trade and organic, as well as in the fight against waste. Although these are simple and modest solutions, they are also frightening since they force us to rethink our lifestyles, modes of production and our consumption.