COP21 in Paris: “Last & Greatest Hope” for Solving Climate Crisis

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cop21 paris eiffel tower

Photo: The Sustainable Innovation Forum 2015

First, what is COP21?

It is the 21st Conference of the Parties, i.e. the annual meeting of all countries which want to take action for the climate. 

In this special GD myEARTH360 Report, you’ll hear about what’s going on in Paris for COP21 this week. Listen up then read on for more about COP21, including a video and infographic…

The Conference is touted by many as our “last and greatest hope” for solving the climate crisis.

In his address at the opening of COP21 on November 30th, President Obama stated:

“Let that be the common purpose here in Paris. A world that is worthy of our children.”

Will all our climate problems be solved if countries reach an agreement in Paris? What will the Paris climate agreement really look like and will it truly be “worthy” of our children?

So that you can be “in the know” and have the facts, we have prepared a short “cheat sheet” that answers some basic questions about the conference, including what to expect. We want you to be able to easily share this information with the kids in your life, with your family and with your friends.

As Climate Mamas and Papas we know that people look to us to help them understand the facts. I worked on and attended many of the meetings on climate held at the United Nations, including the first United Nations Earth Summit in 1992, will help us make sense of what is going on in Paris.

A KEY point and one to keep in mind when reading anything about the UN Paris climate conference is: We ALREADY know what each country has committed to do to reduce it’s greenhouse gases. 

County plans from over 150 countries have already been submitted to the United Nations and are publicly available. And we know, because scientists have “added up” these commitments, that as currently written, these plans will NOT get to where we need to be. However, most scientists agree that current commitments are a clear and positive start forward. But, as the saying goes, getting “close” only counts when playing horseshoes.

So, we want to reiterate our ClimateMama mantra and remind our world leaders:

Tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, and don’t be afraid. Click To Tweet

We must go farther, faster and we must go together….Our future, and that of our children depends on this!

The Paris Climate Change Talks: All You Need to Know

Scroll down for an infographic.

What makes this UN Climate Conference different than previous conferences?

Government representatives, policy folks, scientists, environmentalists and media that cover and attend these meetings, all agree that THIS Climate Conference represents a critical turning point. This Paris Conference is being looked at as a powerful “signal” for real and sustained action.

All governments are in agreement about the seriousness of the crisis the world faces, even if they are all not on the same page about the order and magnitude of what needs to be done to slow down the crisis that we all face. In addition it seems that all over the world – “regular people” (and that means us) – in addition to politicians, environmentalists and journalists, have also woken up to the fact that climate change isn’t something of the distant future, but is in fact happening now.

Photo credit: Energy Action Coalition

This turning point, and the pressure from many sides to do something real, comes at a point in time when the United Nations Climate talks must move beyond the international agreement level, and translate clearly into concrete plans which can be implemented at national, regional and local levels as well. Kicking the “can” down the road, or setting broad targets, with no clear and defined way of getting there, is no longer acceptable.

Each country represented at the Paris Conference is bringing along their country plan, known in UN circles as it’s INDC, which lays out how it will achieve it’s targeted greenhouse gas reductions. Our job, will be to make sure that these plans are implemented.

[Read My Name is Hallie & I Matter Now for Climate Justice (and you do, too)]

What are the expected and hoped for outcomes from COP21?

*A clear commitment to review and revise country climate plans or pledges (INDCs) at regular and frequent intervals, 10 and 5 year time periods are currently being discussed.

*A clear way to show that countries are actually lowering their emissions and sticking to their plans.

*Stronger and clearer finance commitments to help implement developing countries plans that will not only slow and reverse greenhouse gas levels and adapt to climate changes, but to also cover “loss and damage.” This third pillar, along with “adaptation and mitigation” is to account for sudden disasters and sea level rise. For many developing countries, which are feeling the impacts of climate change the worst, and who have contributed to it the least, this financing piece, is critical.

The hoped for outcomes:

*A long-term goal, beyond 2020 to be reached by 2050 or 2100, which lowers greenhouse gases and keep temperature rise below 2 degrees C.

*A clear commitment, that the “age of fossil fuels” is over and that we will get there before the end of the 21st century; this must include an immediate removal of all fossil fuel subsidies.

*Private and public funds that add up to the promised $100 billion annually, beginning in 2020 that is needed to assist developing countries address climate change.

*Carbon pricing, with an agreed fee on all carbon emissions.

* Protection of critical forest resources (carbon sinks – areas that absorb greenhouse gases).

googleimagesvotingWhat happens after Paris and What Can I do?

What happens after Paris is critical and each of us has an important role to play. It will be key that each of us let our elected officials know – at every level of government – that we are watching what they are doing on climate change and we want to see, hear and understand their concrete plans.

We know that it is highly unlikely that the Paris agreement will be “legally binding” in it’s entirety. This is because, in a very basic sense, many countries require that international treaties be ratified by their congress or parliament. In a country like the United States, a country which is critical to the success of the conference, it is clear that the current US Congress would not ratify a treaty requiring the lowering of US greenhouse gases.

So, a treaty that is legally binding, would likely not include the United States the second largest emitter in the world. However, many countries that are attending the Climate Conference in Paris feel strongly that a “binding treaty” IS a key outcome. So look for some “wiggle room” and ambiguity coming from the final documents adopted at the conference. While a treaty – in it’s “entirety” — might not be adopted, it is possible that parts of it might be, i.e. agreements reached for regular reviews of pledges as well as a long term goal.

Sadly, even with a clear urgency that threatens the very future of our children’s existence, many climate deniers still currently walk the US halls of Congress; moving forward this doesn’t have to be the case. We need to make sure that climate solutions are front and center for all elected officials.

With US presidential elections in 2016, it will be crucial that those of us living in the United States vote, and that our neighbors, friends and family vote too. This applies across the world as well. Where ever you live, we all must let our candidates and elected officials know that climate solutions must be a central part of their policies and programs.


Climate Mama


Filmmaker and Green Dude Mark Terry talks about his amazing new interactive non-linear documentary film series Youth Climate Report designed especially for Paris COP21.

And now for the infographic, COP21 What’s That? 

Go to the next page to view!

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About the author / 

Green Diva Harriet

Harriet Shugarman is the Executive Director and Founder of Climate Mama and a long time Climate Leader and Mentor with The Climate Reality Project. Speaker, writer, presenter and "mom-activist," Harriet travels the country educating, informing and rallying audiences around the realities of climate change and how people can feel empowered to take individual and collective action - in their homes, businesses and in their communities. Harriet has worn many hats over the course of her life: ski instructor, orchard worker and even one time skydiver! Harriet spent most of her professional life working as an economist and policy analyst, including 13 years as a representative for the International Monetary Fund at the United Nations. Harriet sits on several boards and chairs numerous regional and local environmental committees, including her New Jersey town's Environmental Commission and works regularly with national, state and local organizations to lobby for legislative change on climate and environmental issues. She is the mother of two teens who are her inspiration and motivation for everything that she does!

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