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Opinion: Demystifying the international climate talks in Paris

John Mauro, Auckland Council’s Chief Sustainability Officer, was there.

Published: 10 December 2015

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John Mauro on demystifying the climate talks in Paris

By John Mauro, Auckland Council’s Chief Sustainability Officer

There’s been a lot of coverage and conversation around the international climate talks in Paris over the last couple of weeks. So what's the fuss about and why should you care? 

Here's my take in just three main points: 

1. Not our first climate rodeo
While countries have been at this for a few decades now, many believe Paris will be different. With 50,000 influential delegates from 195 countries in attendance – including the largest polluters like the USA and China – there's high expectation for forging a legally-binding deal to protect the climate. 

2. It’s not going to be easy
Bringing 195 countries together on a deal inevitably means some thorny issues. The main questions will be:

  • Very hot or very, very hot? 
    It's irrefutable that the climate is warming quickly and our emissions are the reason. But what's too hot? Scientific consensus says warming beyond two degrees Celsius takes us outside the ‘safe zone’. Some countries, such as our Pacific Island neighbours, believe we should aim for 1.5 degrees since their very survival is threatened by rising sea levels.
  • Do you promise?
    Before Paris, most countries registered their commitment to reducing harmful greenhouse gas emissions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). But even though these INDCs halt warming at only 2.7 degrees, how committed are they? 
     
  • Who pays?
    How should richer, more developed countries that emit more greenhouse gases help poorer, less developed countries transition to low carbon economies and adapt to a changing climate?
  • Can we do better?
    There’s talk of a mechanism in the agreement to ‘ratchet up’ targets when technologies make low carbon transition easier (or, better yet, irresistible). Some want tougher targets, but pragmatists believe it’s more important to bring countries to the table and keep them engaged to ratchet up targets over time.

3. Not the end, but the beginning 

A week of negotiations has passed and a draft of an agreement is out. As it all wraps up, there will be talk of either a ground-breaking climate agreement, utter failure, or something in between. But a Paris deal (or lack of one) isn't the end of all this, it's just a beginning. 

No matter the outcome, one thing has been clear: cities and businesses will lead the way.  

While a strong international agreement makes things a lot easier for cities to continue on our current path, cities like Auckland will move ahead regardless. 

We have a strong vision for our city, a climate action plan, and we are committed locally to climate solutions.  

We're looking beyond emissions levels to the kind of world we want to live in – a world where we ensure the survival of our Pacific Island neighbours. Where we create a clean economy and sustained prosperity for everyone. Where we put health and justice at the forefront. 

Simply put, climate matters because it gets us to sustainability: better for everyone, forever, together.

Follow me on Twitter at @SustainableAkl.  

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