Experts Share Their Hopes for Climate Summit Outcomes

The countdown has begun at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, also known as COP21.

The goal of the conference, which ends Friday, is to come up with a global agreement between mayors and city officials to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions and to track their progress transparently.

We asked some friends of Planet Forward three simple questions about the conference and what they expect to come out of it. 

Kathleen Merrigan, the Executive Director of Sustainability at GWU and the former Deputy Secretary of the USDA, made the trek to Paris for the conference. She was up first to answer our questions:

Q: What do you expect from Paris?

Merrigan: A legal agreement that includes most parties, including developed and developing countries.

Q: If you could select two outcomes what would they be?

M: I hope for strong accounting mechanisms and triggers to push countries to do more.

Q: What aspect of climate change do you think the public least understands and can you explain it in no more than three sentences?

M: I don't think the general public understands how easy it is to do the right thing. Part of the reason for that is the overblown rhetoric and misinformation campaigns by defenders of the status quo. The reality is that economic development and environmental protection are compatible and mutually reinforcing.

Francesco Fiondella, Senior Communications Officer for the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University, has a background in journalism and environmental science. Here are his thoughts on COP21:

Q: What do you expect from Paris?

Fiondella: 195 countries have 12 days to negotiate one mutual agreement about climate that will lay out a way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help us adapt to global warming impacts. We will have an agreement. Will it be pretty? No. Will it be clean? No. But the momentum is there, and has been building since last year. People are more 'climate-aware' than ever, helped in part because of El Niño, the drought in California, the much-publicized link between climate, conflict and national security and other issues. 

I expect that countries will formally commit to their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs, in the Paris. These commitments would limit warming to ~3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Of course, we need much more aggressive cuts to get to that magic 2-degree Celsius limit, but some agreement is better than no agreement. I also expect (hope) that parts of the document will be binding, though likely not Kyoto-style binding.

Q: If you could select two outcomes what would they be?

F: 1. An accurate, fair way to track and verify emissions reductions by an independent body. Otherwise the commitments mean little. 2. Motivation (and pledges) to significantly increase investment in energy research by both the public and private sector. This is critical to accelerate the decarbonization of the global economy. We need to make energy greener and much cheaper so that developing countries can readily and quickly transition off of fossil fuels.

Q: What aspect of climate change do you think the public least understands and can you explain it in no more than three sentences? 

F: Climate conditions fluctuate on many time scales. While we should be very concerned about the long-term planetary impacts associated with our greenhouse gas emissions, the fact is that hundreds of millions of people right now are already hungry, poor, sick or have been driven from their homes because of short-term climate variability. Adaptation to the 'climate change' of tomorrow starts with adaptation to the droughts, extreme weather and vector-borne disease epidemics we see today.

Eleanor Davis is an environmental sciences senior at George Washington University who, like Merrigan, is at COP21 reporting about her experience there. (See what's happening on our Instagram!) Here are her answers: 

Q: What do you expect from Paris?

Davis: While in Paris, I am seeing a great amount of civil society engagement. I went to an event where one reporter said, "Lima was a COP but this is THE COP." That is really the feel and expectation for Paris and the agreement.

Q: If you could select two outcomes what would they be?

D: I think we will have a non-legally binding agreement so that President Obama does not need to go to Congress to ratify it. I also think COP21 shows the strength in civil society involvement and that, after this, there will be more involvement with the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) globally.

Q: What aspect of climate change do you think the public least understands and can you explain it in no more than three sentences? 

D: To many people, climate change seems like an abstract concept that maybe they know is a threat but they have no idea how to act to change the current trend. The message we need to send to everyone is, "One drop of water is just a drop, but billions of drops are an ocean." Whether it's composting, biking to work or buying consignment clothes, all actions are important no matter how small and from all these small actions, we are seeing an ocean of change.

What would your answers be? Share with us, below.

 

(Images at top: Scenes from COP21 in Paris via our Instagram takeover by Eleanor Davis.)

 

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