Heads of state from around the world gathered in Paris for the start of the United Nations climate summit, with the goal of creating an international agreement to fight climate change and keep the world’s average temperature from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. Leaders of the three biggest carbon emitters, China, the United States and India, were among those who spoke at the start of the conference.
President Barak Obama both acknowledged the U.S.’s large contribution to emissions, and also promised to play a major role in solving the problem. You can watch his speech here.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke out against developed countries, saying they need to take on ambitious carbon cuts, but still allow poor nations to have “enough room to grow.” India has committed to emissions cuts of 33 to 35 percent of 2005 levels by 2030, and has promised to sequester carbon by increasing forest cover. However, analysts say the developing nation’s emissions targets could go further.
One major advantage of the Paris agreements over past attempts to reach an international climate agreement is that nearly all of the participating countries have already submitted plans (INDCs) to fight climate change at a national level. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which used targets set by U.N. for developed countries and exempted developing nations from emissions cuts, the Paris agreement expects some form of emissions reductions from all nations, but allows each country to determine what it can do.
There are a number of issues still to be worked out.
First, the legal nature of the agreement is yet to be determined. Many climate experts have said that a “legally binding” agreement is necessary for the Paris talks to be a success. But that exactly that will look like remains to be worked out. One route would be for all the participating nations to sign a treaty, but that would be a sticking point for the United States, because the current congress probably won't ratify it.
While some commentators are already lamenting that a legally binding agreement seems out of reach, there are other legal mechanisms that could still meet that goal. For a look at what some of those options could be, check out Carbon Brief’s explainer here.
Another sticky issue is how all the necessary climate adaptations and solutions will get paid for. Developing nations feel that if they are being asked to not burn fossil fuels to power their growing economies, then developed nations that have already benefitted from burning fossil fuels should help pay for the transition to a low-carbon economy. Meanwhile, some island nations also feel they deserve more financial help with dealing with rising sea levels, because their coastlines are disappearing due to little fault of their own.
Yesterday, one major announcement from the sideline of the official talks came from Bill Gates. At the opening of the talks, he announced a multibillion dollar public-private investor initiative to fund the development of new zero-carbon technologies.