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Why is the UN meeting on climate change so important?

In 1992, the nations of the world met in Rio de Janeiro and agreed that they had a responsibility to respond to the reality of climate change. They created the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and agreed that the participating nations would meet once a year. The meetings are called the Conference of Parties (COP) and the 25th such meeting is being held in Madrid, Spain in December. 

The Conference of Parties meeting in Paris in 2015 created the Paris Agreement which calls for all nations in this agreement to reduce significantly their greenhouse emissions (the cause of climate change), so that world reaches net zero emissions by 2050. 

Any remaining greenhouse gas emissions would need to be offset by removing carbon by restoring forests.

Net zero emissions means that human-caused emissions — like those from gas burning vehicles and factories operated by fossil fuels — should be reduced to as close to zero as possible. Any remaining greenhouse gas emissions would need to be offset by removing carbon by restoring forests or through direct air capture and storage.

I write this article during the week of November 18, 2019. Last week, there were wildfires in Australia and California, people in Florida and North Carolina were still recovering from Hurricane Dorian, the people of Australia are debating vigorously about what to do about the dying Great Barrier Reef and Saint Mark’s square in Venice was underwater. These events are happening weekly. 

COP 25 is the last chance to finalize the Paris Agreement before it goes into effect at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland on November 9-19, 2020. Some of the tasks that need to be finalized in Madrid are included here.

To date, commitments made by countries under the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough.

In my opinion, the most important task is to send a clear message to countries that it is imperative that they agree to national goals of reductions of their greenhouse gas emissions so that consequently the world reaches zero emissions by 2050. 

The promised reductions are called Nationally Determined Contributions and have to be made by the start of COP 26. To date, commitments made by countries under the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C. Latest scientific information indicates that global net carbon dioxide emissions must fall to 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030 in order to reach net zero by 2050.

The good news is that there are several coalitions of national, state and local governments, businesses, universities, and the religious community in the U.S. and around the world urging nations to set goals that are high enough to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.  

COP 25 will need to develop a process for trading that really works. 

One of the mechanisms that nations can use to get to net zero is buying and selling carbon emissions. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement allows nations to trade emissions. Using this scheme, a nation with high greenhouse gas emissions can purchase the right to emit greenhouse gas emissions from a nation that has successfully reduced their emissions. But this trading process has to produce real emissions. We will not get to net zero unless this process lowers the actual amount of emissions. COP 25 will need to develop a process for trading that really works. 

Another important issue is called loss and damage. Developing countries have to deal with the damage that the climate crisis has caused, but they can’t afford to do so. For instance, the Pacific island of Kiribati has already suffered because of sea level rise. That nation has purchased land on Fiji so that they have a place to live once Kiribati become uninhabitable in this century.  Many nations have created the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) to respond to this challenge which is a part of the Paris Agreement.

The developing world says that they do not have the money to pay for expensive repairs.

The controversy about loss and damage is whether the developed nations, which produced the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, should be legally responsible for the damage that the developing world is experiencing. Most developed nations say that they should not be legally responsible, but the developing world says that they do not have the money to pay for expensive repairs caused by damaging climate events.

Providing money to the developing world to enable them to produce renewable energy and to fix those things that are broken by the climate crisis is another issue facing COP 25. The Paris Agreement states that by 2020 $100 billion will be raised for the Green Climate Fund and other various funds from developed nations, some developing nations and private sources to enable developing nations to deal with the harm caused by the climate crisis. Additional funding is still needed to reach that goal. 

Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens.

In most cultures, women take care of both people and the environment. Women commonly face higher risks and greater burdens from the impacts of climate change. The Gender Action Plan, created under the Lima work Programme on gender, seeks to advance women’s full, equal and meaningful participation in responding to the climate crisis, promote gender-responsive climate policy, and ensure that a gender perspective is a part of the work to implement the Paris Agreement.  COP 25 is set to evaluate and report on the progress on the Gender Action Plan.

On November 4 of this year,  President Donald Trump announced that the U.S. would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement. He had said previously that "The Paris accord will undermine U.S. economy," and would put the U.S. at a permanent disadvantage. In accordance with Article 28 of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. and any nation is able to leave the Paris Agreement on November 4, 2020 which is four years after the Agreement came into effect. In the United States, this happens to be one day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Though this matter will likely not be on the agenda of COP 25, it may be the elephant in the room. Other nations may wonder what the U.S. withdrawal might mean for the protection of their grandchildren who will have to deal with the catastrophic results of the climate crisis. 

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Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

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