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Paris Conference background

In December 2015 representatives of 196 countries will attempt to reach an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the aim of limiting a global temperature increase to below 2oC. If this Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris is successful it will be the first time, from 2020, that both developed and developing countries will commit to tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

World leaders visibly failed to reach a satisfactory agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the Copenhagen COP in 2009. The lessons learned from this failure have resulted in a great deal of preparatory work in advance of the 2015 Paris COP. The last two conferences, in Lima and Warsaw, very much focused on necessary steps for ensuring agreement is reached in Paris and there have been several preparatory meetings.   The result of this is a 51 page text for the agreement which will have to be finalised and agreed to in Paris.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Countries have also published Intended Nationally Determined Contributions for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, or INDCs, ahead of the Paris conference. This is a bottom up approach, with the aim that aggregated contributions will add up to a 2oC limit on global temperature increases. However, the UNFCCC analysis of these has shown that the pledges as they stand, if implemented, would reduce expected warming of 4-5oC to around 2.7oC.  In response there are calls from various negotiating groups, including the EU and the UK, for any agreement at Paris to include provisions for five yearly reviews of pledges.  Developed countries also calling for clear rules and transparency on emission reporting to ensure targets are met.

Climate Finance

Issues that are of particular concern to developing countries, and which have yet to be resolved, include how developed countries plan to meet their pledge of $100 billion climate finance (from public and private sources) a year by 2020. There is also the issue of compensation for ‘loss and damage’ to the poorest countries that have contributed little to climate change and where there is no option for adaptation.

Other Developments

Away from the negotiations China and the US, the two greatest emitters, issued a joint commitment to reducing emissions in November 2015. There have also been increasing calls from across the board for a meaningful agreement to be reached, including religious leaders.  There is also increased global investment in renewables and away from coal. And for the first time the International Energy Agency provisional figures for 2014 showed there was global economic growth of 3% without any associated growth in emissions from energy use.

UK policy

The UK has been seen as leader in the international negotiations up to date and the Government has restated its commitment to an agreement. However, the recent changes in renewables support policy, which have seen the UK drop down the league table of attractiveness for renewables investment have resulted in concerns both at home and abroad, about the UK’s continued commitment to implementing the changes required to meet climate targets.

The Library Briefing paper Paris Climate Conference  sets out greater details.

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