Paris climate conference: Everything you need to know about COP21.



The United Nations climate meeting in Paris from November 30 to December 11 is possibly the last chance the world will have to create an international treaty to prevent dangerous climate change.

Temperatures are a whole degree above the long-term average and scientists predict more warming unless the world acts to limit fossil fuel use and forest clearing.

Climate change has the potential to affect all of humanity as well as countless plants and animals the world over.

Here is everything you need to know about the Paris climate talks:

Who’s meeting?

In 1992, a new global treaty was drawn up at a United Nations meeting in Rio de Janeiro to try to address climate change. It became known by the not-very-catchy name of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC.

Since then countries which signed up to the convention (which is almost the whole world) have met regularly. This meeting in Paris is the 21st Conference of the Parties, making it COP21. Much like any 21st, there will be many long, rambling speeches.

Why are they meeting in Paris?

The location for the COP moves around each year. In 1997 it was in Kyoto, where the famous Kyoto Protocol was written up. In 2009 it was in Copenhagen, a meeting which ended in anti-climax. It was decided two years ago in Warsaw that the 2015 COP21 meeting would be in Paris. Country representatives also have smaller meetings all throughout the year mostly in Bonn, Germany.


Next year it will likely be held in Morocco. In 2017 COP23 will be held somewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. We hear Australia’s lovely this time of year.

What will they be doing?

The reason for the meeting is to try to agree on the text of a new international treaty. The text has already been drafted and discussed, with points of contention marked in square brackets.

Nations will make their cases for which of the square bracket options they think should stay.

Countries will also discuss related matters such as forests and funding for poorer countries to deal with climate change.

How does it work?

The UNFCCC is an umbrella term for a whole family of committees, working groups, and assorted official bodies. In addition to the plenary session of official national delegations working on the treaty text, many of these other bodies will hold meetings at the Paris gathering.

All of them are working towards the common goal of limiting greenhouse gas emissions to prevent climate change from getting out of hand. Trying to get 196 countries to agree to anything makes the process slow going.

What’s the deal with the Kyoto Protocol?

In 1997 the world signed the Kyoto Protocol which asked countries to limit their emissions but only developed countries needed to do any of the heavy lifting. It gained legal force when Russia ratified it in 2005.

It’s never been a trouble-free treaty. Some countries even walked away from it before it was due to expire in 2012. But in the absence of anything else, it’s been extended to 2020. The real work of Paris is to come up with new text ultimately to replace the troubled Kyoto Protocol.


Who will be in Paris?

Who won’t? Global leaders, presidents and prime ministers will lead delegations of diplomats and public servants. They will hash out the details of the new treaty text.

Observer groups will be allowed to monitor the talks, staying alert to anything untoward and making helpful suggestions, if asked.

In addition, lobby groups will stalk the halls trying to button-hole delegates with persuasive argument. Business people, attracted by the potential opportunities, fly in from all over. Despite their activities being curtailed by heightened terrorism concerns, protesters will find a way to make some colour and noise outside the conference hall. And the media, never one to miss a party, attend in their thousands.

Why is this meeting important?

Every new piece of climate research has scientists repeating more loudly their call for action to address climate change. As far back as 2006, economist Nicholas Stern pointed out that the sooner human-kind takes steps to deal with our greenhouse gas emissions, the easier and cheaper the steps will be. Meanwhile, our greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb.

With the Kyoto Protocol in a holding pattern, the deadline was set for 2015 to come up with a replacement treaty. There is a growing sense that if this deadline is not met, the whole UNFCCC process may be irretrievably lost.


What’s expected?

No-one is expecting miracles. The world will not walk away from Paris with a legally binding international treaty that will limit global warming to under 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Unlike in Kyoto, countries are not negotiating greenhouse gas targets; they’ve already nominated their own targets. Instead, they are negotiating the treaty that will hold them to their targets. Knowing this in advance will help countries understand what they are being asked to sign.

In 2014 the two biggest emitters, China and the US, agreed their greenhouse targets. The US is aiming for a reduction of at least 26 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025. China is hoping to max out emissions before 2030. Commentators believe that this was the key to put the world in a mood to agree.

There’s a sense that a new treaty will emerge at Paris and it will be OK, but it won’t be enough to stop climate change in its tracks. In the years ahead, countries will need to continuously update and improve their ambition.

Still, most COP-watchers are considerably more optimistic than in previous years.

I stopped reading. Give me the short version.

Nations of the world are meeting in Paris to discuss the wording of an international treaty to try to prevent climate change getting out of hand. The mood seems to be quite positive.

This post originally appeared on ABC Online.

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