Exhale. Use any form of energy at all. Turn up the heat. You have no choice. Or do you? This will be under all the drama that will occur in Paris, France soon. Why should you, as a geographer, care?

The UN has 193 member countries (not all countries are members of the UN). In 1992, 165 of these countries signed on to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC – the UN rivals India in coming up with unwieldy names and initials!). The signatory countries are called Parties. Under this, there have been several COPs (Conference of Parties) over the years. I attended COP15 in Bonn, Germany, twice in 2009.

These COPs were aimed at arriving at fixing responsibilities, emission targets (mainly for CO2 but also for other contributors to global warming), types of action to be taken, and very importantly, who will pay for the action? All of these are very contentious issues and there has been a lot of bickering and argument. Much of the arguing has a fair basis but not all of it.

Watching the “discussions” going on at COP15 was a weird experience. I had never attended such an event before. The negotiations were very tough. Supra-national groupings (I have written about this concept in an earlier column) presented arguments as groups. Several parties also presented arguments on their own behalf in addition to being part of groups. Here is how the supra-national groupings are arranged (Source: http://bit.ly/1HO1ruy):

  • Annex I: There are 43 Parties to the UNFCCC listed in Annex I of the Convention, including the European Union. These Parties are classified as industrialized (developed) countries and “economies in transition” (EITs). The 14 EITs are the former centrally-planned (Soviet) economies of Russia and Eastern Europe.
  • Annex II: There are 24 Parties to the UNFCCC listed in Annex II of the Convention, including the European Union. These Parties are made up of members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Annex II Parties are required to provide financial and technical support to the EITs and developing countries to assist them in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions (climate change mitigation) and manage the impacts of climate change (climate change adaptation).
  • Non-Annex I: Parties to the UNFCCC not listed in Annex I of the Convention are mostly low-income developing countries. Developing countries may volunteer to become Annex I countries when they are sufficiently developed.
  • Least-developed countries (LDCs): 49 Parties are LDCs, and are given special status under the treaty in view of their limited capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change.

The next meeting is COP21, to be held in Paris, France 30 November – 11 December 2015. The conference objective is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, from all the nations of the world. Leadership of the negotiations is yet to be determined. (Source: http://bit.ly/1VIwomJ ).

At this point, more countries have been more forthcoming about acknowledging the state of the climate change process, about accepting their share of the responsibility for this state of affairs, and about contributing to improving the situation in a fair manner. This is a small step forward from the COP15 that I attended in 2009.

Basically, the developing countries are arguing that if they have to reduce CO2 emissions, their economic development will suffer. The current state of affairs is largely due to the countries that are now ‘developed’ and that development was what contributed to all the heating in the first place. The developing countries argue, “You put all that into the atmosphere and now you have become very wealthy. Then you turn around and tell us that we have to cut our emissions. How are we to develop then?”

They are also saying, “Well, we are willing to cut our emissions of green-house gases. But that means our development will be slowed down. Will you pay us not to emit green-house gases? And if you have technology that can help us develop with less CO2 emissions, will you give us that technology at low or no cost?” That technology is called “clean technology.”

Developing countries are arguing, “We don’t have the money to just give away to you. How will you spend it? What if you take the money and use it for something else? Also, developing clean technology has cost a lot of money for us. We have to protect the intellectual property rights (IPR) of those who developed them. So, how can we just give it away to you? Also, clean technologies need a lot of investment to set up, customize, and maintain. From where will the money for that come?

All in all, the discussions at COP21 are going to be as heated as ever. Meanwhile, environmentalists are pushing for all parties to reach a fair agreement soon as we are rapidly racing towards the “point of no return” on climate change. They are saying, “If we lose this opportunity to come to agreement and don’t start making the necessary changes, life on Earth is doomed.”

You may be aware of the terror attacks in Paris on Friday, 13 November 2015. Given these developments, there is some uncertainty in the air. The French government may go ahead with hosting the meetings as a matter of honour and strength; they may say that we are not frightened by terrorism. As I write this, there is no news of any change of venue for the meetings.

As you read your chapter on climate change in your textbook, keep these things in mind. Follow the news on the developments at COP21.

Things you can do:

  1. Follow up on the sources I have given above to learn about the process and progress of negotiations to reduce climate change.
  2. Learn about the latest levels of CO2 (the most talked-about greenhouse gas). Read the articles and watch the brilliantly made NASA videos (all links open in a new window/tab).
  3. Learn about some of the steps that India is taking for participation in COP21: http://bit.ly/1HO4y5J (follow some of the links on the “Also Read” menu on the left). Also follow: http://bit.ly/1HO4Eds , http://bit.ly/1HO4F17
  4. Are there any gaps between what your textbook says about climate change and the information you are able to gather from the links here? What are they?
  5. If the Government of India asked for your advice on their negotiations in CAP21, what three pieces of advice would you give them and why?

A version of this article appeared in the Deccan Herald Student Edition on 26 November 2015

Featured image, courtesy: http://www.cop21.gouv.fr/en/

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