Sustainability

COP21 seeks binding climate agreement

COP21 seeks binding climate agreement
World leaders and delegates from around the world have begun two-week discussions on the future of climate change action.

The 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) began in Le Bourget, Paris, yesterday (30 November), as representatives from 195 countries descended on the capital to discuss the future of the fight against climate change.

Scheduled to finish on 11 December, discussions at the conference will primarily revolve around an agreement to reduce global carbon emissions and limit global warming to the ‘critical’ temperature of two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). The Met Office has stated that this year global warming since pre-industrial times passed one degree for the first time. With 2015 set to be the hottest year on record, critics have suggested that the two-degree goal is already unfeasible.

Around 40,000 delegates are expected to attend the conference, the annual meeting of the countries that make up the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The meeting is seeking a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which commits developed countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and was born at COP3. The 2009 meeting in Copenhagen was originally earmarked to produce a new emissions-cutting pact, but negotiations stalled and no binding agreement was made. The Kyoto Protocol was then extended until 2021 at COP18 (2013) in Qatar.

Cameron sets out stall for agreement

To mark the first day of the conference yesterday (30 November), leaders from 147 nations addressed the meeting with three-minute statements.

Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Instead of making excuses tomorrow to our children and grandchildren, we should be taking action against climate change today. What we are looking at is not difficult – it is doable and therefore we should come together and do it.”

Cameron, who has been criticised for his lack of climate leadership in the UK, called for the UK Climate Change Act (enacted in 2008) to be used as a structure to strengthen the international climate agreement, saying that any deal must have a “binding legal mechanism” and include a five-year review to measure against targets. He also called for financial support for poorer and more vulnerable countries and mechanisms to measure progress.

Prince Charles, also speaking yesterday, said: “On an increasingly crowded planet, humanity faces many threats – but none is greater than climate change. It magnifies every hazard and tension of our existence.

“It threatens our ability to feed ourselves, to remain healthy and safe from extreme weather, to manage the natural resources that support our economies, and to avert the humanitarian disaster of mass migration and increasing conflict.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement suggested that there may be conflict when negotiations on a deal start, insisting that rich nations must make the biggest cuts, while developing nations should be allowed to burn fossil fuels to enable growth. He said: “It is not just a question of historical responsibility, they also have the most room to make the cuts and make the strongest impact. And climate justice demands that with the little carbon space we still have, developing countries have enough room to grow.”

‘Empty rhetoric’

Although his verbal commitment to a meaningful agreement has been welcomed, Cameron’s statement has been called ‘grandstanding’ by some groups, drawing attention to his government’s actions in recent months. Subsidies for solar and wind power have been cut since the change of government in May, with former US Vice-President and climate change action champion Al Gore calling the British approach to energy “puzzling”.

Matthew Spencer, Director of Green Alliance, said: “David Cameron has made a passionate case for the UK Climate Change Act to be used as a structure to strengthen the international climate agreement. Without a review mechanism like the UK’s carbon budget, the Paris deal could lock out any chance of staying within two degrees of warming.

“It’s a great shame that he doesn’t talk about his determination to tackle climate change when he is on British soil. As the Prime Minister said, we’ve got the technology to act and the knowledge of what inaction means. It’s his reticence to give his cabinet clear marching orders on climate change which explains the growing gap between the UK’s international leadership and declining business confidence in UK low-carbon policy.”

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, said: “David Cameron’s grandstanding on the international stage is riven with hypocrisy because of the complete incompetence of his government on climate change at home.

“Since the general election the UK government has taken a wrecking ball to clean energy and low-carbon policies, which means the nation’s approach is now way off track.

“Support for renewable power and energy efficiency have been slashed, while fossil fuel firms have been feted with tax breaks and rule changes. Future generations will pay a heavy price for this government’s economic and environmental short-sightedness and its fixation with fossil fuels. It’s to be hoped that other nations in Paris see the UK as irrelevant rather than taking their cue from the policies of David Cameron’s government.

“Empty rhetoric is not enough: we need tough and urgent action now.”

More information is available at the COP21 website