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Paris Climate Summit COP 21 - A Review

The manmade factors influencing both incoming and outgoing energy are having far-reaching environmental, social, and economic consequences. Researchers have found that the uncontrolled human activities are the biggest cause of shift in weather conditions leading to changes in temperature, precipitation, winds, and other indicators. All these are causing Climate Change.

It has been found that if such activities continues unabated at the present rate, then earth will be no longer will be a place to live by 2100.

As such the issues related to climate change have become a huge global concern. There is a race to scale up efforts to tackle this upcoming global catastrophe.

It is in this context, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is spearheading the campaign on climate change. It has roped in all the UN member countries to collectively tackle the issue of climate change.

The UNFCCC has so far sponsored 21 ‘Organisation of Conference of Parties’ (COP) meetings to negotiate an agreement on Climate change. The 21st such meeting was held at Paris from 30 November to 12 December 2015.

Here a global agreement on the reduction of greenhouse emission was negotiated and it has been agreed upon to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial temperatures.

It was also agreed that the conference of parties will strive to further limit the same to 1.5 degrees Celsius or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.

It is understood that these agreements will facilitate enforcement of global green house emission reduction measures in the post-2020 (post Kyoto Protocol) scenario.

The broad consensus that has emerged at the COP 21 agreement is that each country will submit their plans of reducing the green house emissions in every five years.

The reporting and monitoring of such action plan will be transparent and comprehensive and it is hoped that no country may default on such matters of global concern. It is to this effect, the conference of parties will sign the agreement in New York between 22 April 2016 and 21 April 2017. They are also required to adopt the same agreement within their own legal systems.

Such agreement will become legally binding only if joined by at least 55 countries. In such case, it would be the coming together of the representatives of at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions.

Another noticeable feature of the COP 21 agreement is the call for developed countries to raise at least 100 billion dollars annually to assist developing countries to tackle their greenhouse emission.

Some call, COP 21 Paris Conference a victory because emerging and developing countries like China that now dominate emissions has agreed to be a part of this system. However, others are sceptical and are not fully satisfied with the COP 21 draft.

They say there are many sticking points that remain unanswered. The first being COP21 does not mandate how much exactly each country must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

Since the targets are not specified, it is left for the individual country to set a "nationally determined contribution” and explain how they may plan to achieve that target in next five years.

Further, the COP 21 agreement calls for the creation of a committee of experts to "facilitate implementation" and "promote compliance," but there is no agreement to empower such committee to punish the violators.

The debate on 'emission target actions' has been caught up in differentiated responsibility between the developed nations and the developing ones. At the current level there is an ever increasing gap between the action of the countries and what is actually is being called for by the global body the UNFCCC. The COP 21 has not been successful in bridging such gap.

Since the implementation and the compliance of the set target to reduce the greenhouse gas emission is not legally binding and left to the individual country, it makes the entire Paris agreement a loose and open ended draft.

The most important question that remains unanswered at COP21 is whether growth of the world economy is more important or the fall in emissions level? If the growth of the world economy is sacrificed for the decline of emission, or vice versa, then what is the meaning and purpose of COP meetings?

It is in this context some developing countries have argued that they cannot make drastic emission cuts due their developmental needs as this will jeopardize their developmental goals. They want their sustainable industrialization projects to continue at the cost of the emission reduction targets.

At the Paris conference, there is no consensus of such issue and as such the entire purpose of the COP21 meetings have lost its sheen.

Another issue on which no consensus could be achieved was whether any compensation could be paid to the countries that will see irreparable damage due to climate change but have done almost nothing to cause it.

In spite of such pitfalls, there are few things that have come out clearly from the fourteen days of deliberations at Paris on climate change.
First, COP 21 clearly calls that the national plans on climate change must be ambitious and swift. It also advocates that a new pattern of investment and technological innovation must be introduced to address the concerns of climate change. It further calls for new sources of finance that has to be backed by changed incentives. In this direction, the creation of the corpus fund of at least 100 billion dollars annually to assist developing countries to tackle their greenhouse emission is a significant effort.

The COP21 Paris conference, as it stands is a baby step and a slow paced process to tackle the issues of climate change. Nonetheless, it’s a significant effort in the right direction to avoid a possible global disaster.

The conclusion drawn from the Paris conference is not just the agreement but the letter and the spirit of the agreement. The overall mandate of the Paris meeting is that each country has pledged to climb the ladder together to control the greenhouse emissions. It is certainly a big resolve and there is no bending downwards in such efforts.

Now what remains to be seen is the follow up from COP 21 Paris meeting. How the conference of parties will take the UNFCCC mandate forward and the trajectory of climate change debate will shape that is what is eagerly being watched.