December 2015 will define the course of humanity’s survival at the crunch U.N. climate conference in Paris, known as the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) . COP is an annual meeting of countries mandated by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) .
After two decades of meetings, this year’s COP is expected to see countries come up with a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°.
The world has warmed by 0.8°C since the pre-industrial period and it is clear to all where this has taken us – most recently, more than 6,000 died from Typhoon Haiyan and 1,000 from Pakistan’s heat wave, roads literally melted in India because of temperatures that reached 48°C and 1.29M acres of farmland in Myanmar were destroyed by the floods caused by torrential rains.
In the run-up to the Paris conference, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform (ADP), which is working to develop an agreement with legal force under the UNFCCC applicable to all, met in Bonn from Aug. 31 to Sep. 4 – in those five days alone, Dominica suffered from the aftermath of Typhoon Erika, experts reported that 2015 will be the hottest year on record, and three Category 4 typhoons formed in the Pacific Ocean.
We are experiencing things we have not experienced before and they are happening fast. After 20 years of negotiations, will countries finally make it right in Paris? “COP21 is dangerously close to disappointing the world, with very little indication that both substance and process are moving towards a robust, ambitious, comprehensive, durable and fair agreement,” said Yeb Sano, climate activist and former negotiator of the Philippines.
After the ADP meeting, which ended in Bonn last September, it seems that countries are afraid to commit the same mistakes as they did at the COP meeting in Copenhagen in 2009, which resulted in a failure to come up with a climate agreement. However, six years later, the negotiations are still moving slowly. “They keep on talking but nobody wants to compromise. There is no effort to negotiate,” said Tess Vistro of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWD).
Young people took action on the last day of the negotiations in Bonn, calling for negotiators to “speed it up!” and ensure that important issues, such as loss and damage, human rights and long-term goals are given importance and included in any climate agreement.
Nevertheless, the ADP meetings in Bonn – no matter how slow – did give some flickers of hope. Australia and the United States, for example, acknowledged the importance of loss and damage, especially for developing countries. However, whether they actually do something about it is another matter. “It will take a tremendously gigantic effort by governments between now and December to make the Paris COP successful.
This will entail unprecedented international cooperation which is anchored on the ambitious climate action,” Sano, said.
“It is about an agreement that recognizes the dignity of the human condition. It is about a more just, safe, and sustainable world. It is a big goal, but one that I believe humanity is capable of achieving,” he added.
With time running out, countries are being expected to make strong commitments to climate action. “Every country remains committed towards the final destination,” said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCC. The sincerity of this commitment will be judged by whether it translates into a fair, ambitious and legally-binding climate agreement in December. How much can every country put in? Will all countries commit to a fossil fuel-free economy by 2050? Will developed countries recognise their responsibility to developing countries? Will there be enough resources for adaptation?
There is still much left to be desired for the climate agreement, especially for developing countries and, certainly, much work to be done. Paris will be the make or break for humanity – will 2015 be the year we decide to come together and work towards a better future?
Renee Juliene Karunungan