On Monday 30 November, around 150 heads of state are expected to meet in Paris for twelve days for the 2015 climate change conference, also known as COP21. The aim is to reach a long-term agreement to tackle climate change, six years after a major debacle in international diplomacy that saw a similar meeting in Copenhagen ending without a deal. The main issue then was a top-down approach lead by bigger and more powerful countries with little regard for smaller and less powerful ones.
This time, a laissez-faire approach was adopted and countries submitted their own pledges to reduce carbon emissions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Nobody expects INDCs to become legally binding. More likely, countries will be able to change and adjust their plans without major international repercussions.
A recent estimate shows that the INDCs submitted for the Paris meeting would bring down global warming to 2.7°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. This is above the 2°C level beyond which scientists say catastrophic effects would be nearly inevitable.
The new approach to ensure that nearly the whole world is covered moves away from global oversight and strict enforcement – unlike the Kyoto Protocol mechanisms, extended until 2020, which have a strong system of international oversight but did not cover major polluters like US, India and China. The mainstream debate is now centred on the potential of markets and society to bring about the necessary transition towards a carbon free world. The idea of a well-orchestrated cooperative effort by states to make sure that targets are met has lost traction.
Another important discussion will be around the Green Climate Fund. It was established after the Copenhagen meeting in 2009 to help poorer nations, and more vulnerable countries like the small islands states, to mitigate the worst effects of global warming and adapt to a clean development model. Wealthier nations had agreed to contribute US$100bn a year by 2020, but so far only around US$60-65bn have been pledged. Many developing countries submitted climate pledges for COP21 that are dependent on financial help to achieve their targets.
Meanwhile the state of emergency in Paris following the terrorist attacks in mid-November has banned the large demos planned by climate change activists. Today thousands of empty shoes were left at Place de la Republique to symbolically replace those who intended to march to ask for urgent action on climate change.