In a few weeks, representatives from across the globe will be meeting in Paris to discuss how we should tackle the problem of climate change. The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) United Nations climate talks will take place from 30 November to 11 December 2015. Their aim is to find a way for all of the countries of the world to work together to try to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which are responsible for speeding up climate change.

As part of the COP21 process, some 147 nations have made their own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) - individual pledges declaring how they will help to cut climate change in their countries.  The pledges have now been analysed and it has been calculated that based on the INDCs, the world's carbon emissions (which currently amount to around 50 billion tonnes per year) will continue to grow, reaching 55-60 billion tonnes by 2030.

As a species, we humans need to reduce our carbon emissions to a level that prevents global average temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Centigrade above pre-industrialised levels (that is, global average temperatures in the late 1800s) by 2100.  To have a 50:50 chance of achieving this, climate scientists estimate that our carbon emissions would need to be reduced to around 36 billion tonnes by 2030.

So it's clear that every country in the world is going to have to do a lot more to reduce carbon emissions if we don't want to pass that 2 degrees C threshold.  The talks in Paris don't look like producing the solution the world needs, but at least the pledges have created an improvement in the outlook.  

If all the current pledges are implemented Climate Action Tracker, an independent group of European climate experts, estimates that global average temperatures look set to rise to 2.7 degrees C above pre-industrialised levels by 2100.  Before the pledges came in, their estimate stood at an increase of 3.1 degrees C.

The pledges made by India and China in particular have contributed to the improvement in the global climate outlook.  Before they set out their pledges, they were both on track to be major carbon emitters in the future (China is currently the world's biggest carbon emitter.

Calls are already being made for a legally-binding agreement to be drawn up which commits all nations to reviewing their emissions targets after Paris and making joint efforts to reduce their carbon emissions still further.

Meanhwile, researchers from the UK, USA and Germany have suggested that a more co-operative approach needs to be taken to tackling climate change.  They advise a more reciprocal approach to a climate treaty - "If you will, I will.  If you won't, I won't."  They think this would lead to stronger targets being set, as it would benefit every country to have stronger targets if every other country was being bound by an agreement to match those same targets.

In particular, they think that an agreed global price per tonne on carbon emissions  - a 'carbon tax' - would help countries across the world to work towards reducing their emissions.

Since the first UN Climate Change Conference was held in Berlin in 1995, the world has failed to reach proper legally binding agreement on how humanity as a whole will act to prevent global average temperatures from rising above that 2 degrees C threshold.  The meeting in Paris has the potential to be a good start, but it doesn't look like providing the whole solution.  For that, all countries around the world are going to have to work even harder to reduce carbon emissions.

We all share the one planet and whilst climate change will affect different parts of the globe in different ways, we will all feel its effects.  So it's in all of our interests for the world to reach an agreement on how we face up to climate change.  

Image  by Ron Mader

Related Resources

Please donate £5 to help YPTE to continue its work of inspiring young people to look after our world.

Donate £5 X