By Abby Shamray
From November 30 to December 11, the United Nations Climate Conference will be held in Paris. More than one hundred world leaders will be in attendance at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). Russian President Vladimir Putin, United States President Barack Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have confirmed their attendance on the first day of the conference, in line with the organizers’ plan “to provide a political impetus at the beginning.”
Additionally, island states who are at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels will be in attendance to make their case. “We need to get an agreement that’s going to ensure the most vulnerable states will not be forgotten,” Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum told the AP.
“The purpose of these three days is to find the road of compromise on as many issues as possible,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
The last attempt to meet for a U.N. climate summit was Copenhagen in 2009. Despite the presence of 115 world leaders, the summit collapsed due to disagreements after two days. At the end of the conference, the Copenhagen accord recognized the scientific case for taking measures against climate change but no actual commitments to reduce emissions. At the end of the conference, President Obama said, “This progress is not enough. We have come a long way, but we have much further to go.”
In November, in a speech rejecting the Keystone Pipeline due to environmental concerns, President Obama confirmed his presence at COP21: “If we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change before it’s too late, the time to act is now.”
Many leaders are reflecting similar concerns. Said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, “What is unique here is that everyone is realizing that this is truly a very, very urgent moment in the history of addressing climate change, that this is a moment we cannot afford to miss.”
The first World Climate Conference was held in January 1979 in Geneva, Switzerland, along with the launch of some key international programs aimed at better understanding the environment, such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Council on Scientific Unions. Since then, many further efforts have been made in order to create a global agreement on climate change. The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development in 1992 and the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 are two successful outcomes of past conferences.
The main goal of the conference to is to establish how states will do their part to make sure that the global temperature does not rise over 2⁰C (3.6⁰F) above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Many of the key players have already revealed what their goals will be at the end of the conference. The European Union has pledged to cut carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The United States has sworn to cut emissions by at least 26 percent. China does not have a specific target but has said that its emission will peak no later than 2030.
One key issue will be how wealthy countries can support developing countries in the effort to reduce carbon emissions. Developing countries have long insisted that rich nations need to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, since the latter industrialized first and represent a larger part of the problem. Developed nations, though, disagree that they hold the responsibility, pointing to growing economies like India and China who burn coal to power their economies.