Paris Climate summit – why is it crucial for our World?


COP21 –the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties – is an annual meeting of all of the nations that makes up the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. The aim of the meeting is to keep global warming below the critical safe level of 2 degrees Celsius of warming, which refers to the increase in the average global temperature since the industrial revolution. Scientists predict that due to our recent levels of greenhouse gas emissions, we are locked to a minimum of 2 degrees increase already, so it will be a difficult target to achieve. Therefore it is imperative to significantly reduce our emissions as soon as possible. In order to do this there needs to be an agreement in place from all countries worldwide.


Global warming and climate change – a very simple background

Huge natural disasters like earthquakes or volcanoes affect localized regions on Earth. But global warming threatens to disrupt life on the entire planet. Global warming is the gradual increase in the Earth’s temperature and is due to the “enhanced greenhouse effect”. Global warming can be explained with a simple analogy, if we think about our planet as a giant greenhouse. Gases in our atmosphere - including carbon dioxide (CO2) - act as a giant sheet of glass around the greenhouse that let in heat from the sun’s rays, but insulate the Earth from some of the outgoing heat radiation. This trapped heat results in the earth being approximately 33 degrees hotter than it otherwise would be. This is a natural process and is what keeps us at the correct temperature.

Since the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, we have been burning fossil fuels in much greater quantities, including for cars, factories and power plants. A by-product of this process is the production of CO2 which has risen by 30% since the industrial revolution began. Any excess CO2 ends up in the giant sheet of greenhouse glass and makes it thicker. This results in more heat from the sun being trapped in our atmosphere, and hence global warming.

There is overwhelming evidence from climate scientists that humans are responsible for global warming. And there is now more CO2 in our atmosphere than at any other point in nearly half a million years. Scientific data supports the idea that higher CO2 levels in the atmosphere, together with the resulting increased temperatures on Earth, will change the climate across our entire planet. Nine out of ten of the hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. And future climate change would mean more erratic and severe weather, such as heavier bouts of rainfall and snow, longer periods of drought, and more storms, hurricanes, tsunamis and heatwaves. This climate change is distinct from naturally occurring changes in the climate that have happened historically through the ages, and there have been predictions that these changes in the climate may render 100-200 million people homeless due to flooding alone, in this century.

If we continue to produce too much CO2 there is also a risk to our food production and water supplies, in addition to an increased spread of infectious organisms and hence disease. Malaria, for example, is predicted to spread to an area where it will affect two thirds of the world’s population by the end of this century, compared to the 45% currently at risk.


What can we do to halt global warming?

We are all now becoming increasingly aware of our own energy efficiency, and are aiming to reduce our carbon footprints - with better insulated and more fuel-efficient homes, energy-saving lights and appliances, solar panels, wasting less food, recycling more, and driving more efficient cars. (In September the VW group were found guilty of falsifying their CO2 emission levels on diesel vehicles which will have a huge effect on the reputation of their global brand.)

Global approaches can be taken to curb the Earth’s CO2 levels and hence control global warming. We can protect forests from depletion, as forests use up CO2 and their depletion accounts for 12% of man-made increases in CO2 emission. But the major approach required is to change our sources of energy away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. Currently 80 percent of energy in the world comes from fossil fuels. And the amount of energy that people are using is increasing too, as developing countries such as China and India are increasing their power consumption.


The Paris Climate Summit - COP21

Measures to reduce our CO2 emissions can have an effect on economic growth which has an impact on the way that governments want to approach the problem of global warming. If country “A” tries reduce greenhouse gas emissions while countries “B, C and D” don’t, then country A will be at an economic disadvantage. This is where the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required world-wide cuts in emissions by about 5%, failed. The US government refused to support it, as other countries such as China did not need to adhere to it. But given that our imminent climate change would have a drastic effect on global economic activity, politicians from around the world appear to be ready to act together to tackle the impending climate crisis.

In Paris, 195 countries are being represented to negotiate a treaty that aims to prevent an irreversible catastrophe that we are heading towards, by aiming to tackle global warming. The support for the meeting is encouraging, with heads of state and government from 147 countries attending the opening day of talks. Nations responsible for over 97% of global emissions (170 countries) proposed their emission reduction targets, with varying contributions, ahead of COP21. Analysis of the agreed pledges showed that it is not quite enough to meet the scientific targets set. So in Paris there are aims to have an agreement in place to review the targets every five years.

A crucial topic covered will be the commitment of future financial support given by developed countries to less affluent ones, so that they can invest in clean-energy technology and develop an infrastructure which will contribute to the prevention of global warming. This is a contentious issue and will unfold over the coming days at the conference.

The organisers of the event in Paris estimate that the conference will result in about 21000 tonnes CO2 equivalent. But the organisers are planning to offset this emission. And with the fate of the world at stake, it seems like a small price to pay.