Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.
The leaders will be joined by more than 25,000 negotiators, NGO participants and representatives from civil society.
Negotiators will work from a 55-page draft document. Among the remaining issues is a divide between rich and poor countries over who should pay the cost for climate adaptation.
The poorer, more vulnerable nations say the industrialized nations, largely responsible for the polluting emissions, should foot the bill. The wealthy nations say all parties must participate, especially emerging economies like China, India and Brazil.
At climate talks in Copenhagen six years ago, developed countries pledged $100 billion in private and public support to help poor countries adapt to climate change. David Waskow, an international climate analyst for the World Resources Institute, says fulfilling those obligations is an unprecedented investment opportunity.
“We know that we will see trillions of dollars, literally, in infrastructure investment over the coming decades. The question is, is that infrastructure investment being oriented in the right direction? When you are making energy investments, are you pursuing renewable energy, which in many cases is already or very soon to be cheaper than fossil fuel sources in many countries?”
Bypass fossil fuels
The Executive Secretary for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, agrees. The 195 UNFCC member countries have met annually since 1992 to tackle the problem of climate change.
Figueres, who travels widely for her job, told students at Hertie School of Governance in Berlin that it is imperative that poorer nations turn to low carbon sources to fuel economic growth.
“We’re asking developing countries to do something that nobody has ever done. We’re asking developing countries to continue their growth and their development, but without greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody has done that, no one!”
Before the Paris Conference of the Parties under the UNFCC or COP21, more than 150 countries announced national climate action plans. But those plans do not add up to enough emissions reductions to avoid a two degree Celsius rise in temperature above pre-industrial times. That is what scientists say it will take to prevent sea level rise and more intense and frequent storms, droughts and fires.
Waskow said the Paris talks will set up a system to ramp up action for deeper cuts to bridge that gap, “Ideally every five years and coming back starting in 2020."
He said the agreement would also build resilience to climate change.
“Many of the national climate plans talk explicitly about how countries will move forward on renewable energy, how they are going to move forward on low carbon transport, what they are going to do to restore forests.
So, it is not just plans that are looking at greenhouse gas emissions, though that is obviously critically important, but also how are they going to do this in ways that allow them to create good sustainable development.”
Figueres said developing countries can and must leapfrog the fossil fuel age with financial and technological support from developed countries.
"It is an astonishingly difficult task that we are asking developing countries to do, but one that is inevitable, because my friends, there is no other option. Not to address climate change is so immoral, is so unacceptable to all of us, that there is no other option."
"Outside of the Paris agreement," she said, "there is no Plan B because there is no Planet B."
The meeting runs from November 30 through December 11.