climate talks

Opinion: Five things we learned from the Paris COP21 climate talks

COP president Laurent Fabius on the opening day of the summit. Photo credit: ConexcionCOP Agencia de Noticias.

By Phil Foster

Climate change is an issue that affects us all. And at the end of November 2015, nearly 200 countries from across the world came together in Paris to discuss the global problem of greenhouse gas emissions and the earth’s rising temperature. After two weeks of intense negotiations and all-night meetings, a global deal has been reached to help stop the effects of climate change.

It’s not surprising that in 14 days a huge number of issues and measures were discussed. From debates on shale gas mining to calls for more investment into renewable methods of harnessing energy, we bring you our round-up of the top five biggest things we learned from this historic event.

1) More ambitious targets were sought
For the past few years, scientists across the world have largely been in agreement that the planet’s core temperature cannot rise by more than two degrees Celsius without disastrous environmental consequences. As a result, the subsequent goals and targets that have been set have all been based around this figure. However, on Sunday 7th December, Canada entered the discussion to call for more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets to be set.

It was safe to say that the crowd in Paris was shocked when Catherine McKenna, the Environment and Climate Change Minister for Canada, announced that she wanted an agreement to reduce the warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius as opposed to two. She also called for more political accountability from all countries, as well as regular reviews into whether governments were doing enough to hit all goals.

Many of the biggest countries across the globe were in agreement that 1.5 degrees Celsius was the target we should be aiming for, with many calling for a binding UN agreement on the figure. However, it still remains to be seen whether or not Canada’s recommendations will be taken on board.

2) More must be done to tackle deforestation
The subject of deforestation was discussed intensely during the Paris talks. The role that the world’s forests play in our ecosystem cannot be undervalued. Not only do they help to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, they are also relied upon by around one billion people across the globe for their livelihoods, which can include anything from controlling rainfall to supplying work.

However, according to estimates by the United Nations, the earth’s loss of approximately 12 million hectares of forest a year accounts for around 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Prince of Wales took centre stage to lead calls for a solution to deforestation, and it appears that efforts were not in vain. During the first couple of days of the talks, a number of new initiatives emerged to tackle the disappearance of the world’s forests. This included a brand new partnership between the UK, Norway, Germany and Colombia to support efforts in Latin American countries towards saving the Amazon Rainforest.

More good news came when it emerged that the UK had announced a plan with Norway and Germany to provide $5bn by the year 2020 to countries that establish ambitious anti-deforestation schemes and strive towards further conservation.

3) Renewables are going global
For many people, the words renewable energy may conjure up high-tech images of fields of solar panels and wind farms stretching as far as the eye can see. But the reality of renewable energy is actually rather different and countries that are considered to be developing are catching up in terms of harnessing renewable energy, and COP21 highlighted the potential that these countries have for tackling the global problem.

Africa produces very little of the greenhouse gases that are having such a drastic impact on our climate, but it is one of the most vulnerable continents on the planet given that much of its population depends so heavily on rainfall for its agriculture. As a result, Africa is planning to undertake a huge continent-wide expansion in its renewable energy efforts; they are aiming to double their production within 15 years. During the talks, France also announced plans to pump billions of euros into renewable and environmental projects across Africa in the next five years.

4) Net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
One of the biggest discussions to get off the ground in Paris was the goal of reaching net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050 and beyond. The UK already has its own targets in place – an 80% reduction in emissions (based on 1990 levels) by 2050, but a deal of this magnitude reaffirms the importance of cutting our emissions.

Numerous initiatives aimed at curbing pollution have been floated and were unsurprisingly high on the agenda at COP21. We all need to be working towards achieving negative emissions, which involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere either through the planting of more trees or carbon dioxide storage. It is also likely that renewable energy methods will be cropping up more and more as a strong push towards things like solar and wind will be needed to even come close to the 2050 target.

5) Five-year reviews
Setting common targets and goals for nearly 200 countries from across the world was no mean feat. To ensure everyone involved is constantly striving to achieve those goals is another challenge altogether. Something else to emerge from the COP21 talks was the establishment of a process where the countries involved would meet up every five years to review their progress towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Many are hoping that this will ensure the pressure remains on governments to continue to strive for a greener future.

These five standout points merely scratch the surface of everything that was discussed at COP21. But what’s important to take away from Paris is that steps were made towards setting a goal that would help to cut greenhouse gas emissions – it’s a major step forward. While major deals are being struck, it’s essential that everyone does their bit to try and tackle climate change. From taking small steps towards being greener to switching your business energy provider to one that gets its power from renewables, we’ve all got a part to play. Now, only time will tell whether the measures put in place will yield any results.

Phil Foster is a regular contributor at A greener life, a greener world and the CEO of businesses energy tariff comparison company Love Energy Savings. His strong desire to support UK SME’s make much-needed savings on their energy bills. That’s why he created a business energy comparison service to help business owners not only improve their profits through savings but also save valuable time in the process of comparing and switching suppliers.

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