Prepping for Paris— COP 21: The Basics

There has been a lot of talk about the “climate change talks in Paris” and a great deal of excitement within IFSA about our delegates to COP 21, the GLF, and the COY! But…as students and young professionals in forestry, how much do we know about this international process? Are we aware of the proposals to be negotiated or what international climate change legislation may look like in 2015?

It can be very difficult to keep up with it all, so the IFSA LC at the University of British Columbia (UBC) hosted an event to clear up any confusion–“Prepping for Paris: What does COP 21 mean to you?” This panel discussion was shared through a livestream this past week and brought together individuals from industry, academia, and IFSA to summarize and share the issues of COP 21. For all those who could not attend, I hope to share the key points brought up during this excellent session of knowledge sharing!

What Will Be Addressed at COP 21??

Many of us know that limiting warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius is an important marker and a target for climate change policy. To provide some context, we are set to reach the halfway marker to this threshold – 1 degree – by the end of 2015.  At COP 21 (the gathering of all states in this decision making body) being held in Paris from Nov 30-Dec 11, the goal is to create the first legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2 degrees.

  1. Forming the “Mixed Bag” of INDCs–The approach for this year’s legislation is likened to “flipping the Kyoto protocol on its head.” Rather than mandating emission targets, the UNFCCC has shifted to a bottom up approach – where each country is asked what they are willing to contribute. This declaration is known as a countries INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution). Essentially, the combination of each countries INDC forms a “mixed bag” of contributions that is reflective of each nation’s unique circumstances and capabilities. In this ‘bottom-up world,’ national policy-setting (a crucial component to effective implementation) is paired with a global framework that commits to a united and collective path forward.
    1. Update: The deadline for country INDC submission has passed and as it currently stands, if all of these efforts are added up and fully implemented…this effort will not limit warming to 2.5-2.7 degrees, beyond the ‘danger zone.’
    2. Since the INDCs have not met the target, a new proposal to have each country re-evaluate their INDC and “ratchet up” commitment will be negotiated. Hopeful through “ratcheting up” goals and commitments every 5 years, the global effort can successful limit warming.
  2. Climate Finance – Currently, there is no standard international definition for climate finance. This has resulted in each country individually defining this term and, subsequently, blurred lines between development and climate funds. This year, we should expect to see efforts to develop mechanisms for mobilizing and defining climate finance, a number that stands at $35 million for 2015.
  3. Mitigation & Adaptation –Past negotiations have greatly centered on mitigating carbon emissions. But, as we are already seeing the adverse effects of global warming through stronger storms and rising sea levels, you can expect to see adaptation enter the discussions at COP 21. When the impacts of global warming hit, they hit the most vulnerable members of our society the hardest. There is no doubt that the negative impacts are disproportionate, therefore successful international collaboration to this cause will require a new focus and importance placed on climate adaptation. This requires backing research into innovative methods as well as program implementation for strengthening community resilience.
  4. Compliance – Lastly, how will we comply? How will countries be held accountable? These questions must be answered! The development of a compliance mechanism is critical because, as Jennifer stated during the UBC presentation, you cannot “put toddlers in a sandbox and declare ‘I’m leaving, so everyone play nice.’”

These issues are just 4 of many to be addressed at COP 21, but progress in these fields will be what define Paris as a success! There is no doubt that COP 21 already signifies the beginning of global action and hopefully the outcomes of this UN process will set the world in the right direction.

Please comment, question, and provide your viewpoint on any of the topics brought up. What do you think, is this the right approach? Do you prefer a top-down or bottom-up method with climate legislation? Is there another issue that hasn’t been highlighted that should be discussed? This is our time to develop and share our own opinions and contribute to this discussion!

Looking forward to seeing some of you in Paris and sharing this experience with all of you around the world.

Best wishes,

Salina Abraham

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