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Paris climate conference gets underway

In Paris right now, the planet's best hope for achieving a framework for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is underway.   The UN's 21st Conference of the Parties, or COP21 is the latest attempt to reach global agreement on how humanity as a species can take control of the climate change we are creating before it's too late.

With 14 of the 15 warmest years on record globally having occurred since 2000 and with 2015 set to become the warmest year on record, it's very clear to all that finding solutions to climate change are vital.   It is thought that if global average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees C above pre-Industrial levels, the effects of climate change will become much more serious and dramatic.  2015 is likely to be the first year on record that global average temperatures have reached 1 degree C above pre-Industrial levels.  Now that we have reached the halfway point to the 'safe' limit, efforts to slow climate change really need to come into force.

On Monday, to signal the start of the Conference and empahsising the problem climate change presents to the whole world, the leaders of some 147 countries gathered and delivered speeches to signal that all were in agreement - something has to be done to address climate change before it's too late.  The UK's David Cameron struck an optimistic note, saying that reaching an agreement was "not difficult, it is do-able".

Prince Charles addressed the delegates, saying "Humanity faces many threats but none is greater than climate change".  He recognised that today's young people will suffer greater effects from climate change if we don't act now.  "I urge you to think of your grandchildren, as I think of mine".

Meanwhile, US President Obama said that America as the world's biggest economy and second biggest emitter of greenhouse gases not only acknowledged its role in climate change but embraced action to make a change.  "Let's show business and investors that the global economy is on a firm path to a low carbon future," he said, while also referring to today's young people "Let there be no doubt.  The next generation is watching what we do."

Russia's President Putin recognised that "Climate change has become one of the gravest challenges that humanity is facing."  He added that Russia would continue to contribute to global efforts to prevent global warming.

Chinese President XI Jinping, leader of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitter, said that the agreement forged in Paris should create a new international co-operation on climate change between not just governments, but non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and all peoples.  However, he added that addressing climate change should not make it difficult for countries to develop and that developed countries should take on more responsibilities.

India's prime minister Narendra Modi called on developed nations to make good on their pledge to provide $100 billion to developing nations by 2020.  "The prosperous still have a strong carbon footprint and the world's billions, while countries at the bottom of development ladder are seeking space to grow."  He pointed out that 300 million of India's 1.25 billion people do not currently have access to energy, so giving them access to energy without increasing India's carbon emissions would present major challenges and require help from more developed nations.

Meanwhile, the leaders of small island nations, many of which have been the worst affected by climate change so far, spoke movingly about our need to address climate change as a matter of urgency.  The president of Nauru Baron Waqa, the smallest nation state in the UN and one of the remotest places in the world said, "Small island communities pay in the droughts that destroy livelihoods... small island communities are among the first to pay the price of climate change.  But no one will escape forever...We have a choice: we can pay in human misery or pay investing in a more equitable, resilient and sustainable future."

The world's leaders have now left Paris and it is down to their teams of negotiators to thrash out a deal in the coming days.  At this point, we can only hope that as a species, we will finally unite to meet the challenge that we all face.  That is, to continue to develop in a sustainable way, whilst making significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that are enshrined in law, so that we can avoid catastrophic climate change in the future.

More will follow on the results of COP 21.

Photo for Prince Charles addressing delegates courtesy of COP PARIS.