Come December and one of the most important conferences on climate change is going to be held in Paris, the results of which could set the course of future for humanity. However, people remain largely unaware of the significance of this meeting. Why should you be bothered by a conference happening in Paris? Why do you need to know about this conference? What is different this time? How is it more important than its predecessors? Manav Seth answers some of these questions:

Q1. What is the UN Conference on Climate Change? How is it different from COP21?

In the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, over 150 countries in the United Nations adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), which was enforced in in 1994. The signatories have since been meeting every year to discuss and formulate policies, agreements and programmes to mitigate climate change and ensure sustainable development. The first such conference took place in Berlin in 1995, and this year, the conference is going to be held in Paris, from November 30 to December 11. COP21 and the Paris Climate Change Conference is the same event. However, in no way one might put it, COP does not seem like a right acronym for the UN Conference. That is because COP stands for Conference of Parties, referring to the Parties of the original signatories of the Rio Summit. Since this is the 21st such Conference, the name COP21, or Paris COP21 is used interchangeably.

Q2. Several Environment and Sustainability Conferences have happened before. How is this any more or less important?

The COP21 is more important than its several predecessors, because for the first time in the history of such events, the participating members are expected to draw a legally binding agreement, in order to limit the global rise of temperatures by 2 degrees celsius. The key word here is legally binding, as the agreements that have happened up until now did not penalise the defaulters, in the event of non-compliance. More importantly, the Paris Conference is said to be the last such opportunity to effectively combat climate change, for time is severely limited. The temperatures will rise, global weather patterns altered, and people on island nations will face grave problems, all of that that has been accepted as a reality of the future. However, the Paris agreement brings hope with the aim to mitigate the fallouts of rise in temperatures.

Q3. That sounds like good news! Does that mean the COP21 is going to be successful?

Unfortunately, no. Though most world leaders have agreed in spirit to facilitate policies to tackle the problem, two major pitfalls are a threat to the outcome of COP21. First, there is no consensus about ownership of responsibility. States are still fighting over who should make the maximum emission cuts, and are struggling coming up with a common definition of what entails climate change, and how it will affect different nations. Several factions and groups, of developing vs developed countries, island nations, West Asian nations etc have formed as result. Hence, the fact that several countries will not agree to what the other leaders might propose, to protect their own national interests, is the single biggest threat that can derail the negotiations. Second, even if the world is able to forge such an agreement to restrict the rise to 2 degrees, with clear roles and responsibilities, these agreements come into effect only after 2020. Activists and scholars have said that five years is too long a time, specially in today’s unstable world, for the entire paradigm and discourse of climate change to be altered. Furthermore, this duration might dilute the sentiment and momentum set by the Paris Conference, and give the countries enough elbow room to back out of the agreement, and explore other options.

Q4. Getting all countries to agree on such a critical issue seems difficult. How is the approach different from that of the summits and conferences that have happened in the past?

History and experience has shown that international agreements related to environment have underperformed severely, and failed to deliver on their goals, barring an exception or two. The nature of these agreements was universal, and had a blanket-approach with one-solution-fits-all method. However, this is attributed as the biggest undoing of the same, because how states, people and organisations view the issue vary drastically over the planet. Therefore, learning from the past, and to seemingly make the discourse and negotiations more fair, the concept of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) has been introduced, under the ambit of which, each nation will propose the extent of their emission cuts, in alignment with their capacities (economic and technological) and their contribution to the global emissions. In other words, developed countries like USA and the ones in Europe, with sophisticated green technology, will assume more responsibility than that of developing countries in Africa and Asia. The INCDs are expected to be a game changer in the negotiating process, as they will be proposed by the state itself, and thus majorly reduce, if not eliminate, the chances of not delivering results. Up until now the goals set were equal for all, which were one of the sources of conflict in addition to half-hearted efforts made to achieve them.

Q5. What will be India's stand and position in the COP21?

India has been very vocal about committing to INDCs. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has reiterated on global platforms about developed countries taking more share of the responsibility, in addition to facilitating transfer of funds, technology and knowledge to developing countries in order to expedite the process of mitigating and preparing for the effects of Climate Change. A few months back, on the occasion of anniversary of the UN, Modi also wrote to state heads all over the world committing to be a pioneer in the process. Additionally, India and US came into an agreement in the beginning of this year to work together towards sustainable development. Nationally, the Modi government has announced seemingly over-ambitious goals for solar and wind energy, and put major thrust on developing cleaner sources of energy. However, globally, India has made it clear that since it is a developing nation, the immediate emissions will increase, however, it is expected to announce to work towards peaking its emission before anticipated, much like China.

Q6. How will the recent Paris attacks affect the outcome of the Conference?

The ISIS orchestrated attacks in Paris, were questioned because of their proximity to the global conference, and activists and theorists were quick to decipher that the attacks were also meant to derail the climate talks. However, world leaders, have reaffirmed their presence in Paris to carry out the negotiations, without any change of plans. France has said the Conference will happen as per schedule, but of course with multifold security. The main venue for the conference, Le Bourget, is anyway on the outskirts of Paris and is considered safe, with a separate airport, where dignitaries will assemble. The side events and demonstrations, spread all over the city of Paris, are expected to be under threat, but the French are taking no chances now. With over 40,000 people expected, security has been stepped up, which is natural. In terms of the outcome of the talks, there is no doubt that the attacks will bring the focus on global terrorism as much as on Climate Change, but if anything, this is an opportunity for world leaders to cooperate and show solidarity on an issue which affects everyone equally, much like terrorism. The negotiations are expected to have a tense ambience, but the attacks are not likely to alter the course of the conference .