Paris 2015: Beyond Kyoto and Copenhagen

Parisians will host a Car-Free Day in “La Ville des Lumieres” on Sept. 27

From November 30 to December 11, over 190 nations will attend COP21/CMP11 in Paris, France. COP21 (or “The Paris Conference”) is the 21st meeting of nations who comprise the membership of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In this year’s agenda, every participating nation will present their country’s contribution plan in order to help meet the international goal of delaying the rise of global temperatures. The target is for the global temperature to rise no more than 2 degrees Celsius. This requireCOPENHAGENment is new to the COP conferences, perhaps marking a pivot from global goal setting to having nation-level goals and action plans. It is hoped that these individualized goal/action presentations will form the standards by which countries’ progress will be measured. It will also form the standards to which countries can then be held accountable by the international community.

Taking this ground-up approach aims to avoid the pitfall from previous conferences. In the Kyoto protocols signed in 1997, the internationally set objectives failed to be ratified by key countries such as the United States, and lacked teeth when countries, including Canada, failed to deliver on them. At least with the new approach in Paris, plans are more specific, and the accountability is based on what a country individually sets for itself.

A side event to Paris/COP21 will be the Sustainable Innovation Forum on Dec. 7-8, where governments, businesses, financiers and NGOs will discuss ways to scale up the emerging green economy.

Financial commitments to fighting climate change will surround contributions to the Green Climate Fund, whose goal it is to have $100 billion for use by 2020 to transition to low carbon economies, particularly in developing nations. As well, a key forum will discuss green initiatives and technologies. Dubbed the Agenda of Solutions, according to the COP21 website, this forum will “raise awareness of economic and social opportunities, and thus help to strengthen individual ambitions”.

On Sept. 27, Paris will launch a one-day initiative where no personal vehicles will be allowed in the city. Cyclists and other pedestrians will have free reign of the streets including its high traffic tourist destinations such as the iconic Champs-Elysees. Paris has faced smog pollution on a similar scale to that of Beijing, one of the reasons France has been a world leader in going green. In the local context, the retirement of coal facilities has in part resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of smog advisory days Toronto has experienced.

On Sept. 3, the Chinese government was able to turn the skies over Beijing a pristine blue in celebration of the anniversary of Japan’s surrender following World War II. China shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants and factories in the days leading up to Thursday’s events featuring a massive parade. Chinese authorities also limited civilian traffic by banning the use of half of Beijing’s estimated five million vehicles. Pedestrian and cycling-friendly city infrastructure is seen as a progressive strategy to curb greenhouse-gas production and has been successfully adopted in many countries such as the Netherlands and Denmark.

Climate change scepticism has been in decline, and the notion that the world is getting warmer is no longer being seriously challenged, leaving only assertions of human causation to be contested. Volcanic eruptions, forest fires, deforestation, underwater methane release and livestock still represent significant and relatively uncontrollable greenhouse gas sources. Climate sceptics believe efforts at curbing our human-caused carbon footprint would be insignificant. Even if we were to accept this premise, a different conclusion needs to be drawn. Instead of saying we have a very small impact and thus should continue on with the status quo, if we agree that climate change will be harmful, why not conclude that we should limit our contribution to accelerating what nature is doing. It is hoped that this year’s Paris conference and continuing the COP conferences will eventually create a critical mass of political will to curb controllable sources of pollution.

For more information about the Paris Conference, visit cop21.gouv.fr/en/cop21-

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