5 Things You Need to Know About COP21: The Paris Climate Talks

The Paris climate talks are set to begin at the end of this month. Here’s what you need to know about which nations are involved, what policies they will be hashing out, and what the chances are of substantial progress.

1. When Does COP21 Take Place, Where, and Who Will Attend?

The climate talks are set to run between November 30 and December 11, 2015. They will be held in Paris, where representatives from over 190 countries will gather to try to formalize international commitments to tackle climate change. 

2. Why Are The Paris Talks So Important?

All major scientific bodies agree that climate change is the number one threat to global security, and all reputable bodies have reached a consensus that human activity in terms of greenhouse gas release is the central driving factor. While individual countries have made some, sometimes impressive, steps toward limiting their impact, there is at yet no global legally binding framework for how to meet this threat.

As such, the Paris talks are needed to set a legally binding global agenda on how to tackle this problem.

3. What Are the Main Aims of the Talks?

First and foremost, COP21 must produce a legally binding treaty that all nations sign up to. Soft frameworks (like the still necessary but problematic Kyoto Agreement) haven’t produced the kinds of changes we need so we know that robust provisions within the agreement will be needed to ensure nations stick to the plan.

However, developing nations want assurances that they will be able to enjoy the prosperity that developed nations have already enjoyed, and so they are unlikely to agree to measures that will hamper their growth unless they receive large incentives.

In terms of outcomes though, the goal is to have every nation agree to making escalating cuts to their annual emissions over the next decade and beyond. This looks different for every nation, but to give a few examples of the agreements that have already been made going into the talks:

  • By 2030 the European Union has agreed to cut its emissions by as much as 40 percent compared to its 1990 levels.
  • By 2025 the United States has said it will reduce emissions by at least 26 percent compared to its 2005 levels.
  • China has said it will agree to an emissions cap so that its emissions will peak by 2030 and reduce thereafter.

4. What Are the Signs That We’ll Get What We Need?

Currently, officials who have analyzed all the draft commitments the various global nations have submitted before the talks believe that we still have not promised enough to keep us below the 2C warming above pre-industrial levels that would save us from the worst impact of climate change. They believe that things like India’s desire to keep using fossil fuels, China’s skepticism of emission targets, and divisions in Europe over fossil fuel use could all be problematic.

However, with the historic steps made by the Obama administration to improve the US/China relationship, analysts believe that reaching an agreement could be possible, especially if China takes a leading role in negotiations and comes to the table willing to work with other UN members to find a consensus on action–and given that China appears to be ahead of its emissions cap target and will begin reducing emissions

5. Some Issues to Look Out For

Saving the Forests

Experts who have examined the role that forests play in storing carbon say that forest protection efforts must receive a boost in funding to ensure that deforestation does not release damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The way to do that, they say, will be to incentivize and support forest protection measures through ensuring that carbon markets and the earning of carbon credits can translate to real financial rewards for countries, and especially for developing nations.

These efforts, which are called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) targets, received $10 billion between 2009 to 2014, but researchers point out that’s significantly lower than the $20 billion that they believe is needed to make sure that the UN hits its target of reducing deforestation by 50 percent in the coming decades. You can read more about this issue here


Several EU countries including the UK, as well as Japan, the United Nations and Canada have already agreed as part of their G7 talks to “decarbonize” within the century, meaning that they want to reduce carbon emissions to zero by cutting emission production and off-setting those that cannot be trimmed away. Getting other nations to agree to this effort would be a major step in safeguarding future climate security.

Climate Refugee Status

Several smaller nations that have already been adversely affected by climate change want to ensure that under international law they will be granted asylum on the grounds that they have been displaced by climate change. Currently, and speaking in general terms, only things like war and famine can trigger this kind of refugee status, however they contend it will be vital moving forward to ensure that they are not left without somewhere to turn should desertification, flooding or a collapse in their local ecosystem threaten their lives.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Edith B.
Edith B3 years ago

Will they even be able to have the meeting now?

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

With representatives from over 190 countries gathering to try and formalize international commitments to tackle climate change, one has to ask: when was the last time 190 countries agreed on anything? To be effective, ALL MUST BE IN OR OUT.

That human activity is the central driving factor is surely no longer deniable, yet there is still no global legally binding framework. Are you honestly surprised there is no legally binding treaty that ALL nations will sign on to?

Here's a clue ... The European Union by 2030, The USA by 2025, China by 2030 .. now ask yourself , any real chance for change? That far down the pipe anything left will be hard-pressed for survival -- but who cares anyway? Terrorism in all its internal/external forms will rise to the top of this list ... and, hopefully, produce some NOW results. (In my dreams, yours?)

What Are the Signs That We’ll Get What We Need? Personal opinion, slim to none, what say you?

Ron B.
Ron B3 years ago

Good luck. We're going to need it.

maria serban
Past Member 3 years ago


Anon E.
Cela V3 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R3 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F3 years ago


Sharon F.
Sharon F3 years ago

Everybody, esp the US military, should cut back on vehicle emissions. Walk, bike, take public transit, combine trips. This a.m. I went to Fitness, library and grocery store in one outing. At those places I parked where I could minimize vehicle operation. We all must do all we can in the interest of the environment!

Aaron Bouchard
Aaron Bouchard3 years ago

thank you