Transformation continues…or tries to.


10 Things To Know About The U.N. Climate Talks In Paris
by Nell Greenfieldboyce
November 30, 2015

Leaders from around the world are converging on Paris for the 2015 U.N. Climate Change Conference. The two-week event is designed to allow countries the chance to come to an agreement on stifling ๐Ÿ˜ฑclimate change.โ˜บ

Below are 10 questions and answers that should better prepare you ๐Ÿ˜•for the conference and what to expect during and after its completion.๐Ÿ˜ฏ

Click the audio link at the top of this page to listen to “Heating Up,” NPR’s special on climate change, hosted by Ari Shapiro. Share it, download it, take it with you.

1. What’s at stake and why should I care?

It’s no exaggeration to say that what happens in Paris will affect the future of the planet.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š Greenhouse gas emissions keep going up,๐Ÿ˜ and scientists say that continuing with business as usual will produce rapid and devastating warming.โœ๐Ÿ˜” This won’t just be bad news for polar bears ๐Ÿ˜ฃand beachfront homeowners.๐Ÿ˜ Unchecked warming means that dependable food and water supplies could be ๐Ÿ”‘disrupted, dangerous pathogens could ๐Ÿ”‘spread to new โœareas, and rising seas could remake maps. โ˜บWhat’s more, extreme weather, plus worse droughts and more fierce wildfires, could๐Ÿ”‘ become increasingly common.๐Ÿ˜ Security experts even worry that scarce and shifting resources could lead to violence.๐Ÿ˜”๐Ÿ˜จ

2. What needs to happen to stop climate change?

Many nations want a Paris agreement that will signal a long-term goal of net zero emissions in the second half of this century. That doesn’t mean actually producing zero greenhouse gas emissions. But it does mean producing no more than the planet can absorb without raising temperatures.โœ Doing this would mean a dramatic transformation of the world’s entire energy system, turning away from fossil fuels to other options like wind, solar and nuclear power๐Ÿ“. The task is absolutely staggering ๐Ÿ˜ฃ๐Ÿ˜ฃโ€” but๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž scientists say it can be done, if the political will is there.๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ”‘

3. Well, is there really the political will to do all this?

U.N. watchers say the stars are aligned like never before. ๐Ÿ’ชBefore the summit, all countries โ€” rich and poor โ€” were asked to come forward with their own voluntary pledges for how they would aid the global fight against climate change. Over 150 countries have submitted national plans to the U.N., and that in and of itself is a huge deal.๐Ÿ‘ Some nations say how they’ll cut emissions, while others pledge to do things like preserve forest cover๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ or use more clean energy.๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ Independent experts have calculated that if the world is currently on track for warming of about 4.5 degrees Celsius, these pledges would reduce that to about 2.7 to 3.7 degrees โ€” which is real progress, before the Paris summit even starts.๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ“Œ๐Ÿ“Œ

4. What does the Paris agreement really need to have in it?

The goal of Paris is to produce a short, simple agreement โ€” maybe a dozen pages โ€” that will satisfy nearly 200 nations. Here’s what some observers๐Ÿ˜Ž think are key elements for a credible, ambitious plan forward:๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜Š

Countries need to agree to come back every few years to increase their pledges and keep doing more and more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions๐Ÿ˜”
The U.N. must ๐Ÿ˜ž๐Ÿ˜žhave a rigorous system of accountability and transparency to make sure ๐Ÿ“๐Ÿ“nations will actually keep their promises๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ
The poorest countries of the world need support ๐Ÿ’ธto both adapt ๐Ÿ˜”to a warming world and to adopt new, low-carbon energy technologies๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ

5. There’s talk of a 2 degree Celsius warming limit. Will this agreement hit that target?

That target comes from an international consensus five years ago, when nations agreed to limit warming to just about 2 degrees Celsius (about 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial times. The thinking was that this would avert the worst effects of climate change.๐Ÿ˜‰๐Ÿ˜‰ But no one thinks Paris will get the world that far. ๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ดInstead, the aim of Paris is to come up with an agreement that requires countries to make increasingly ambitious efforts to combat global warming over time, to put the world on track to meet that target in the future.๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด๐Ÿ˜ด

6. Rich and poor countries are all part of this thing, but will rich countries have to do more?

There’s a lot of tension between the developed world and the developing world when it comes to climate change. Some developing countries such as India say they’re in no position to commit to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gases when they’re trying to bring economic advancement to millions of people who currently live in poverty. They need a supply of energy, and lots of it.๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ What’s more, poorer nations want financial compensation ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธif they’re going to agree to do things like preserve rain forests that will suck up carbon dioxide. They note that developed nations chopped down their own trees long ago and have burned enormous amounts of fossil fuels,๐Ÿ˜•๐Ÿ˜•๐Ÿ˜•๐Ÿ˜• but now they’re being told they can’t do the same ๐Ÿ˜•๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘โ€” so they think the developed world should pay up.๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ So-called “financing” issues will be a major hurdle that negotiators will have to clear in Paris.๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ˜ฃ๐Ÿ˜ฃ

7. How is the U.N. trying to make this deal happen?

Basically, for two weeks, they’re going to sequester a bunch โœ๐Ÿ˜‰of diplomats in a conference center๐Ÿ˜‰ outside Paris. There’s been years of preparation leading up to this conference, and organizers expect tens of thousands of people to gather.๐Ÿ˜‰ Besides the delegates and diplomats there to do the actual wrangling, tons ofโœ businesses, activist organizations and scientists will be there as well. While some outside events may be curtailed because of the recent terrorist attacks, the negotiations should go on as scheduled.

8. But, hey, hasn’t the U.N. been trying to rein in greenhouse gas emissions for two decades?

It’s certainly true that past efforts have had serious shortcomings. Top emitters like the United States refused ๐Ÿ“Œto join the landmark๐Ÿ˜• 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and๐Ÿ˜‰ it didn’t include any developing countries, like China.โ˜บ Then the 2009 Copenhagen summit ended in a shambles,๐Ÿ˜† with a weak agreement thrown together at the last minute by politicians๐Ÿ˜Š who didn’t want to leave the talks with nothing.๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘ But things are different this time. The fact that almost all countries have submitted voluntaryโœ pledges shows that governments feel pressure to participate. Both the United States and China have taken a leadership role.๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿ˜Š And major public figures like Pope Francis๐Ÿ˜ฎ have been urging action, saying there’s a moral duty.๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

9. What are the big fights going on in the negotiations?

Besides arguing over how much rich nations should pay the poor,๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ there are some nations that simply are not excited about a zero carbon future.๐Ÿ˜” Oil- and gas-producing countries, for example, aren’t so keen to leave their valuable assets in the ground. ๐Ÿ“Œ๐Ÿ˜Another hot-button issue is “loss and damage.” That’s the idea that there should be some mechanism to compensate the citizens๐Ÿ’ธ๐Ÿ’ธ of places that simply cannot adapt๐Ÿ“ ๐Ÿ˜•to climate change โ€” for example, small island states that could disappear under rising seas.๐Ÿ“Œ

10. What if Paris ends with a whimper?

Scientists say that delaying action is just going to make changes harder and more expensive in the future, and that really the world should have started this transformation๐Ÿ”‘ decades ago. If reliance on fossil fuels continues and produces unrestrained climate change,๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ˜ž experts predict dramatic shifts in our familiar maps and weather patterns.๐Ÿ”‘ Computer simulations show that New York would have the climate of Miami,๐ŸŒด and melting ice would flood major cities around the world. Poor countries would be the hardest hit by a changing world, as they have the fewest resources to adapt.๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ”‘๐Ÿ”‘

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit is the U.N. trying to make this deal happen?


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