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What You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Talks

posted: 11/25/15
by: Danny Clemens
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Chase Dekker Wild-Life Images/Getty Images

The outcome of an upcoming meeting in Paris could significantly alter the course of humanity.

Between November 30 and December 11, negotiators representing nearly 200 countries will gather for the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, colloquially known as the Paris climate talks.

Their objective? To establish a legally binding agreement that will get the world on board with reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with the ultimate goal of mitigating the impacts of human-induced climate change. The globally applicable accord will call upon the world to cap warming at two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

"The agreement will need to be universal and sustainable. It will need to send economic and political signals to make the economic development model shift to a new path," conference organizers write.

Ahead of the conference, the governments and bodies responsible for the vast majority of the world's emissions have already submitted national plans to cap and/or cut emissions; the European Union, for example, has pledged a 40% reduction by 2030. Many of the pledged reductions fall between 20% and 30%, although the highest percentage cut is Moldova's staggering (yet financially contingent) 78%. [Click here to find out what your country has pledged.]

The Road to Coal
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Many of these commitments may not be ambitious enough, though. Instead of staying within 2 degrees Celsius, the pledges could still permit warming of up to 3 degrees Celsius, according to a recent United Nations analysis. In Paris, negotiators will attempt to craft a graduated plan that requires each country to revisit and ramp up climate-related commitments every five years.

What's not entirely clear yet, however, is exactly how the world will keep emissions in check. According to a preliminary draft of a potential climate agreement released earlier this year by the UN, the deal could include a commitment to cap emissions, to achieve zero net emissions, to reduce emissions by a predetermined amount or to achieve carbon neutrality -- that decision will ultimately be left up to the negotiators.

Climate negations have occurred in various forms for two decades, and although we've inched closer and closer to a universal, legally binding agreement, it has never actually happened. The Kyoto Protocol, the closest thing that we do have, expires at the end of the decade.

If we fail to quickly act on climate change, the consequences are dire: 70% of species on Earth could face extinction, 600,000 people could die each year from climate change-related cases and 760 million people could be displaced by rising sea levels.

The time is now.

We need to take a stand for our planet before it's too late.
Click here to find out how you can #StartWith1Thing and make a difference.

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On Wednesday, December 2nd, Discovery will present a global broadcast of Racing Extinction, a powerful eco-thriller that exposes issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Visit RacingExtinction.com for more information.

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