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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Paris – COP21: Encouraging Promises!

By George Harvey

The news of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) on climate change came thick and fast as the conference progressed. There was a lot more to say than there was time to say it. We kept a diary of the events as we found them, however. (The dates represent when we saw the news, which was, in many cases, the day after the events took place.)

November 29 – As negotiators gathered in Paris for the on climate Change, the question of the day was “Can we avoid an apocalypse?” As the meetings began, nearly every country involved had agreed that an increase of 2° Celsius from pre-industrial times was too much for safety. The promises the countries have already made would cover about 90% of the carbon emission reductions needed to slow climate change.

After the terrorist attacks of November 13 in Paris, security was high and many people worried about disruptions to the proceedings.

November 30 – There are 195 countries represented at COP21. Leaders of 147 of them came to address the conference.

There had been over 2000 demonstrations and protests across the world. The poorest countries have expressed a fear of “being left behind.” Many people from developed countries were afraid the conference would fail generally. In London alone, 50,000 people took to the streets in a march.

December 1 – National leaders addressed the conference, saying that the stakes were too high to allow the conference to end without success on agreement on how to meet a goal of 2° or less.

Indigenous people from around the world gathered at Paris to bring attention to damage their homelands had suffered as results of pollution and climate change. Allison Akootchook Warden of Kaktovik, Alaska, told reporters, “Our world is melting. Climate change and global warming is a reality in my home.”

December 2 – President Obama said the negotiations should lead to legally binding agreements. This undoubtedly would produce opposition from Republican leadership in the U.S., much of which denies climate change is even real.

Brandalism, a group of activists in the U.K., posted 600 fake outdoor ads all over Paris, imitating those of COP21 sponsors, whose hypocrisy they satirized. One, which looked very much like a real VW ad, said, “We’re sorry that we got caught.”

December 3 – At a meeting in Rome, many reflected on Pope Francis’s social encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home,” and considered what role free markets could play in helping with environmental action. The meeting was hosted by the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

Elon Musk addressed students at the Sorbonne, telling them it was imperative to put a price on carbon emissions. Other business leaders taking the same stand in connection to the COP21 activities included billionaires Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson.

December 4 – After three days of stressful meetings, negotiators agreed on a 54-page draft pact, in which 250 important issues remained unresolved.

December 5 – Representatives of the Indian government said they would cut back on the use of coal if wealthier countries paid them enough. They said industrialized countries produced most of the carbon emissions, so they should assume most of the burden of stopping them. India is expanding its use of coal quickly, despite the fact that it has the most polluted air in the world, leading to health issues for tens of thousands of its people.

Leaders of thirty of the world’s poorest countries issued a strongly-worded statement saying they wanted the world to be 100% powered by renewable resources by 2050.

December 6 – Delegates approved a new 48-page draft of an agreement on climate change. They hope it would be a basis for a final document.

An agreement was reached to limit the temperature increase from greenhouse gasses to 1.5° C above pre-industrial times. This was seen especially as a victory for poor countries.

The US, Japan, and developed countries in Europe would consider increasing supports for fighting climate change in the poorest countries to $100 billion per year by 2020.

December 7 – Climate chiefs from the various countries have taken up discussions of the draft agreement, with a view to making it legally binding.

Australia agreed to the 1.5° C limit on warming, providing it had more favorable carbon emission rules.

December 8 – The draft agreement was found faulty because it failed to address a large number of key points of disagreement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said the world expects more than “half measures.”

Cities, states, and other regions announced they would pursue climate initiatives of their own, regardless of what the nations agree to do. Businesses are also taking important stands of their own.

December 9 – The European Union formed an alliance with 79 African, Caribbean, and Pacific nations to push for a final agreement at COP21.

Australia says it wants to continue selling coal because it is “good for humanity.”

December 10 – Barely more than half an hour after the last session of December 9 closed at 11:28 PM, the first meetings of December 10 began, at midnight. Their focuses on included losses and damage, forests, mechanisms the preamble, and other topics.

A “high ambition coalition” emerged, formed of the US, the European Union and others. On December 10 it comprised well over 100 countries.

December 11 – France, the US, Britain, and seven other partners renewed commitment to mobilize a cumulative $10 billion between 2015 and 2020 to boost access to energy in Africa. The costs are to be offset by repealing all subsidies for fossil fuels and ending the tax breaks that encourage corporate inversions.

Because an agreement had not been reached, negotiators at COP21 decided to extend the conference for an extra day, to end on Saturday, December 12. “Things are moving in the right direction,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who has chaired the summit. But more compromise is needed if an agreement is to be reached.

December 12 – The conference produced a global agreement, supported by all of the major countries, to limit climate change, the first of its kind. The agreements include a limit well below 2° C on warming and extensive support for efforts by poor nations. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the president of the conference, said of the agreement, “This text contains the principle elements that we previously felt would be impossible to achieve. The proposed agreement is differentiated, fair, durable, dynamic, balanced, and legally binding.”

It appears that the conference went far better than anyone could have expected. There were many people, including a large number of negotiators, who believed that this conference could never achieve valuable goals. There are some people who complain that it has no enforcement included – though the countries voted the results legally binding, and in many countries citizens and organizations can hold their governments responsible for adhering to the law. Some complain that the agreement does not go far enough, though we should remember that the agreement will be revisited every five years.

One thing people should understand is that the wording of the conference agreement makes it a statement of intent. This means that it does not need the approval of the U.S. Senate, which is largely dominated by climate change deniers.


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