The entrance to the Le Bourget campus where the United Nations Climate Change Conference is happening over the course of the next two weeks.
The Paris Project: Day 1
2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference Kicks Off Amid High Hopes and Heavy Hearts
Monday, November 30, 2015
And so it begins. On Monday, under seasonably grey and chilly skies, the much-heralded 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) got underway in Paris with hopes of forging a binding international treaty targeting the wholesale reduction of global CO2 emissions.
The leaders of more than 150 nations were there for the pomp-and-circumstance-rich opening ceremonies, an unprecedented attendance record for the annual two-week gathering that, when taken in concert with the recent terror attacks in the City of Lights, underscores the supreme gravity with which the world at large views our planet’s health.
As conference president and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius put it Monday morning, “The stakes are too high and the menace of climate change too great for us to be content with a minimalistic agreement. The heads of state and government who have come to Paris have come to express the voice of ambition.”
Six years ago, the COP (Conference of the Parties) convened in Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen with similar designs; 1992’s Kyoto Protocol was expiring at the end of the year, and the clock was ticking to broker a new multinational agreement aimed at minimizing mankind’s role in global warming. Though a deal was achieved in the final hours of that conference (The Copenhagen Accord), it was more of a stop-gap measure than a hard-hitting evolution of the Kyoto deal. Nonbinding and purposely vague in nature, it was decried by environmental groups the world over for being a failure.
The race has been on ever since to build off the Copenhagen Accord and replace it, once and for all, with a long-term deal that better addresses the vast and varied issues related to climate change. This effort, unfolding as the planet has enjoyed a string of the hottest years on record and a steadily increasing amount of historic weather events, is coming to a head in Paris during the next 11 days.
By Kodiak Greenwood
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres addressed the media during a press conference Monday afternoon.
“After many years of hard work, we finally see irreversibility of direction, depth of engagement, and boldness of action. This turning point is remarkable, but the task is not done,” said conference Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres in her opening remarks to the leaders. “Never before has a responsibility so great been in the hands of so few. The world is looking to you. The world is counting on you.”
Described by officials as the “biggest summit ever in France and the largest climate conference in history,” COP21 is bringing together representatives from more than 180 countries, nearly 1,000 nongovernment organizations, and untold scores of scientists, activists, and journalists at the sprawling Le Bourget facility just north of Paris. The goal is to get all of those countries to sign off on a legally binding document that memorializes their pledges to cut carbon emissions in such a way that global temperature rise will be kept at or below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of this century.
By Kodiak Greenwood
U.S. President Barack Obama was all grins when posing for a “family photo” with 150 or so other world leaders
Of course, in a dynamic world market, any such agreement would also need to address financial mechanisms for incentivizing smaller carbon footprints from nations and economies big and small. The supreme difficulty in brokering such a compromise cannot be understated given all the different players with skin in the game.
Perhaps the largest potential stumbling block on the way to such an agreement is the historic difference of opinion about what exactly that document might look like between big dogs like the United States, Russia, and China and smaller, more imminently threatened and less cash-flush countries like the Maldives, Indonesia, and a majority of Africa and South America. In past conferences, this deep chasm has gridlocked talks to the point that progress is seldom made until the latter half of the final week, if at all. In fact, the very procedure and structure of the negotiations, something which needs to be approved by all parties involved, is typically argued over for at least the first few days.
Find your leader. There were so many presidents and heads of state in attendance Monday that they not only set a Climate Change Conference record but they also couldn’t all be captured in a single photo, even from a distance.