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Current Commentary: The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference: COP21

Posted on 6. April, 2016.

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COP21 is the latest in the annual “Conference of Parties”, which began in Berlin in 1995, with a main aim to review the implementation of the “Rio Convention” – the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which entered into force on the 21 March 1994.

The UNFCCC was adopted at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992, and sets out an overall framework intended to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) so to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.” The UNFCCC membership is now practically universal and, as of December 2015, consists of 197 parties. Some of the more significant conferences (and their associated actions) include COP3 (Kyoto Protocol adopted), COP11 (Montreal Action Plan agreed), COP15 in Copenhagen (agreement not achieved to implement the Kyoto Protocol) and COP17 in Durban (Green Climate Fund agreed). COP21 stands out from all previous conferences, in that it aimed to limit the rise in global temperatures to “well below” 2 °C above pre-industrial levels (with the background target being 1.5 °C), by establishing a universal agreement on climate, among all the nations of the world, that is legally binding. The negotiations at COP21 led to the “Paris Agreement” being adopted on 12 December 2015, which governs measures for climate change reduction from 2020, and concluded the work of the Durban platform, which was set out as part of the activities of COP17.

However, it is required that 55 countries which produce at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions ratify the Agreement, in order for it to enter into force and become fully binding. The Agreement must be signed in New York between 22 April 2016 and 21 April 2017, by these parties, who must also assimilate it, as appropriate, within their own legal systems, via ratification, acceptance, approval, or accession. However, it is speculated that some parties, particularly the United States, may not agree to do so. Indeed, although it is a requirement that each country that ratifies the agreement must set a target for its reduction in emissions, there is no compulsory amount for this. Moreover, there is to be no means to compel the setting of a target by a specific date nor penalty measures imposed should a set target not be met (in contrast with the more specific and draconian Kyoto Protocol). Any noncompliant countries will merely be “named and shamed”, which has contributed to severe criticism of the whole enterprise, e.g. by such eminent figures as James Hansen, who is quoted as saying: “It’s a fraud really, a fake.” “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2 °C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”

Download the full article, free of charge, from Science Progress, Volume 99, Number 1, March 2016, pp. 97-104.

Author: Christopher J.Rhodes

Keywords: Paris climate change conference, COP21, 4 per thousand, 4 pour mille, soil, greenhouse gases, UNFCCC

DOI:10.3184/003685016X14528569315192

Image: Shows the top 40 CO2 emitting countries in the world in 1990 and 2012, including per capita figures. The data are taken from the “EU Edgar database”, and includes figures for international shipping and airlines, which are not included in countries' submissions. [This does not include domestic air traffic.] Credit: Chris55

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