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The Pope and COP21

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By Anthony Strawa
Chair of the Catholic Green Initiative

In June, Pope Francis released his historic encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” that highlighted human-induced climate change and its impact on nature and humanity, especially the poor, marginalized, and future generations. The release of the encyclical was timed to precede his visit to the US and to influence the next climate summit in Paris, called COP21. This article will put the COP21 into historical perspective and outline its significance.

From November 30-December 11 representatives from 196 countries and other groups will meet in Le Bourget, France for the 21st Conference of the Parties or COP21. The COP is the annual meeting of all countries that want to take action to address climate change. This conference is crucial because the desired outcome is a new international agreement on climate change to keep global warming below 2°C. This temperature limit is widely regarded by climate scientists as the limit of safety, beyond which many of the effects of climate change – floods, droughts, heat waves, sea level rises and more intense storms – are likely to become much more dangerous.

A little COP history: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted during the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This Framework Convention acknowledging the existence of human-induced climate change and gave industrialized countries the major responsibility for combating it. It adopted the Kyoto Protocol that was a milestone in international negotiations on tackling climate change. For the first time, binding greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction targets were set for industrialized countries.

A longer-term vision was introduced by the Bali Action Plan in 2007, which set timelines for the negotiations towards reaching a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol.
The willingness of nations to act together to address global climate change and its consequences was reflected in the establishment of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) in 2011. The purpose of the ADP was to bring both developed and developing countries to the table and agree on “a protocol, other legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force” applicable to all the States Parties to the UNFCCC.

The Climate Change Conferences in Warsaw Poland, in 2013 and Lima Peru, in 2014 made essential progress towards COP21. All member countries were invited to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), or pledges, towards reducing GHG emissions ahead of COP21. Without these pledges the warming caused by GHG emissions would result in as much as 5C of warming, causing a very high probability of dangerous effects.