Analysis and resources to support the UNFCCC's ultimate objective

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​​COP21


‘COP 21’ is the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It will take place in Paris between 30 November and 11th December 2015.

Although the Parties have met annually since 1994, COP 21 is not ‘just another’ meeting. Many saw COP 15, held in Copenhagen in 2009, as the last moment for governments to agree legally binding commitments to tackle climate change.
Infamously Copenhagen failed to deliver: emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have continued to rise, with worsening consequences for both global warming and ocean acidification.

 2 years later in Durban (COP 17) the Parties agreed to:

launch a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties.

COP 21 is the culmination of that process. Any agreement will take effect only from 2020. After Copenhagen there is hesitation to talk again in terms of ‘last chance’.
Given the need for emissions to peak within years (the draft text for Copenhagen proposed 2020), andto be cut dramatically by 2050, it should be clear to everyone, however, that time is running out.

There are reasons to be optimistic in the build up to Paris, including the bilateral discussions between the Heads of State of the US and China, the two largest emitters of GHGs.


The danger, however, is that COP21 produces an agreement primarily of good intentions, insufficient to convince capital investment of a departure from business as usual.The model being adopted in the run up to COP21 is one in which countries volunteer ‘nationally determined’ emission reduction commitments (‘INDCs’). Without a mechanism for aligning aggregate INDCs to the long-term goal (i.e. limiting average warming to below 2 degrees Celsius), providing a clear and strong signal to investors, such an agreement risks leaving the world on track to 4 degrees warming over the course of this century.


Such temperature rises would cause devastation, most immediately to many of the world’s poorest and more vulnerable populations. As recent research has demonstrated[3], climate change operates as a ‘threat multiplier’, increasing the risks from other stressors. Climate change, for example, contributed to the worst drought in Syria’s history (between 2007 and 2010), which in turn contributed to the outbreak of civil war. A successful outcome from COP21 can only be one, which establishes and upholds an aggregated emission reductions pathway consistent with the long-term goal.

[1] See https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/11/11/us-china-joint-announcement-climate-change

[2] Arguably the significance of the statement was largely symbolic, similar text having been previously agreed by the Parties at COP 20, held in Lima.

[3] Climate change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the recent Syrian drought, PNAS vol.112, no. 11, Colin P. Kelley et al.,  3241–3246, doi:10.1073/pnas.1421533112Type your paragraph here.