What to expect from the COP21 conference?

By Noosha Uddin


This Monday marked the beginning of the 21st annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP21 as it’s known in all the Twitter and Facebook hashtags. This year’s conference is pivotal unlike those of years past; as Laurent Fabius, minister of French foreign affairs said, it’s meant to unite “the world’s non­governmental stakeholders for the climate, including cities, regions, businesses, non­governmental organizations, social and economic forces, and citizens.”

The objective is to reach a unanimous decision on keeping the rise in global temperature capped at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2020 – a means of regulating how much greenhouse gas emissions each nation produces now in comparison to the pre­industrial era and how much each needs to cut down.

In short, it’s meant to create a game plan in dealing with the current global climate crisis once and for all. But how can we be sure this conference isn’t just another high profile meeting that leads to nothing but more debates on whether or not climate change is real? It’s the one topic that U.S. politicians have been alone in arguing, while the rest of the world has moved on in at least recognizing it’s an actual problem.

Nevertheless, world leaders are hopeful, discussing what could be monumental for the next generation in a city recently struck with tragedy. The State of Emergency that French President François Hollande declared immediately following the Islamic State attacks calls for a ban on protests and demonstrations, a directive that’s sparking unrest between policemen and climate activists. And so, outside the gates of what could be the most important conference of the time a too familiar dispute between the police and citizens of the state ensues once more.

Notable speakers include U.S. president Barack Obama, who called upon other leaders to set an example for the next generation, since we’re all waiting and watching to see what kind of mess us Millennials will have to clean up. Russia’s president Vladimir Putin reiterated the point that the growth of the global economy is independent from gas emissions and stated that the participating nations “can ensure economic development and take care of our environment at the same time.” Even president Xi Jinping, leader of the nation responsible for 28 percent of global CO2 emissions as of 2011 in China, is pledging to cut emissions by 2030.

Why two degrees? The number was proposed by Yale economist William Nordhaus back in 1977, where he argues anything more than a two degree rise in temperature “would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.” But even that may be too high of a threshold; nations among the equatorial regions are already experiencing intense hurricanes, crop shortages, decline in freshwater, and other normalized natural disasters that would’ve been categorized as rare occurrences a generation ago. Placing the cap at two degrees Celsius protects northern states – the richer states – from the impending climate crisis just a little longer.

World leaders, business CEOs and activism groups can give speech after inflammatory speech calling for action, pledging to change and congratulating themselves on domestic cuts on greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, however, only a collaborative effort from all nations, business, non­governmental organizations, citizens and the like will prevent us from destroying the planet.

COP21 has just begun; let’s see how the next couple of weeks unfold.

Noosha Uddin is a Collegian Columnist and can be reached at [email protected]