The Climate Change Conference in Paris – who, what and why?

It’s now only two months until COP21 (a big meeting about climate change, you may have seen it in the news recently) and as it looms nearer, we’re forced to take a moment and ask, what is actually going on?

I’m a keen recycler, an avid walker, and always turn off lights but I have to admit, until recently, I knew very little about the upcoming summit. With it being such an important issue, isn’t it about time we all got a little more clued up?

So what actually is COP21?

COP21 is the 21st Conference of the Parties (i.e. countries) to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), attended by global leaders, businesses and civil society. It’s where issues surrounding climate change are discussed. It’s a chance for governments to take a stand against global warming and agree on how to respond to its effects.

When and Where?

The location changes each year, having previously taken place in Rio de Janeiro, Copenhagen, Durban and many more. This year the conference will be held in Paris, from Monday, 30 November until Friday, 11 December.

What’s the point?

The aim for this year is to create a legal agreement between parties to act on keeping global warming below two degrees celsius; though Tearfund is hoping to keep it lower than 1.5. Since the Industrial Revolution the world has warmed by nearly one degree, and though it doesn’t sound like much, it has actually had devastating effects on our climate. It’s also an opportunity for developed countries to provide support to the developing world by committing to reduce their emissions. This is particularly important as ‘developing countries’ are most affected by climate change.

Who’s invited?

Everyone. All 196 nations are invited and attendance is expected to be quite high. However, different countries have been known to respond to varying extent.

What’s happened in the past?

These talks have been going on, literally, for the lifetime of many in the Rhythms community! They’ve succeeded in convincing policymakers that climate change is real and adopted protocols to reduce carbon emissions (COP3 Kyoto Protocol). Since 1997 campaigners have been working hard to get the ‘big emitters’ (i.e. USA, China) to commit to legally binding agreements. A new treaty would also include provisions for developing countries to receive financial and technological support so they too can prevent, and prepare for, climate change. There was hope that COP15 (Copenhagen 2009) would see this action take place, but talks broke down, and anticipation has steadily built up to this year, COP21 in Paris.

Why is all this important? What happens if we surpass the 2 degrees?

For so long we’ve been warned about ice caps melting, so much so that we barely think about it any more, but it’s still happening to an extreme extent. If the ice continues to melt then oceans could rise as much as 95 centimetres by 2100. We run the risk of losing some major cities, including London, Bangkok, New York, Shanghai and Mumbai; and coastlines could be dramatically reshaped. Bangladesh already experiences the worst of climate change, if the sea levels continue to rise then the country could lose as much as 17 percent of its land mass. Alongside this, weather patterns will become unpredictable and the world could see anything from severe droughts to flooding.

What do we hope will happen?

There’s so much that we hope will come out of COP21, but overall we pray that a legally binding agreement will be put in place to reduce emissions and prevent dangerous rising temperatures, keeping it lower than two degrees celsius. As a part of this we need an economy that supports all people and the planet, and a church movement to make small, yet significant changes, all with the intention of convincing governments to step up and take action.

It all seems pretty bad, but can we actually affect change?

Scientists argue as to whether or not we can keep the temperature from rising no more than two degrees, but what they do agree on, is that we dramatically need to change our ways, and fast. If we were to do nothing then it could be a lot worse than just a couple of degrees, and millions of lives could be at risk. If we can keep it as low as possible then the damage could be limited and whole communities could be saved.

What can I do?

Just because, on their own, the average person can’t force businesses and governments to be more ecological doesn’t mean they can’t make a difference. Just small changes to everyday routines can have a massive impact.

Here’s just a few actions to get you started:

Buy locallyCalculate your CO2 emissionsCall on David Cameron to take actionChoose not to flyDon’t use disposable cupsWalk or cycleSwitch to a renewable energyGo seedbombingStop using plastic bagsDon’t buy bottled water

Article originally appeared on rhythms.org

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