Five Things You Need To Know About #COP21

November 29, 2015
An image of the Eiffel Tower is contained with an illuminated globe outside LeBourget Airport in Paris, France, on November 29, 2015

On Monday, November 30, 2015, the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP-21) -- the annual meeting of countries that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) -- will kick off in Paris, France.

Here are five things to know about COP-21, and about the importance of global climate action.

1.  COPs have taken place every year under the UNFCCC, beginning in 1995 in Berlin. 196 parties take part in the UNFCCC, including 195 countries and the European Union.

General view into the conference hall of the Berlin Congress Center where delegates from more than 130 countries attended the opening session of the UN Summit on Climate Change in Berlin, March 28, 1995 [AP Photo]

The UNFCCC was created in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, at which countries recognized the need to limit global warming. Countries began meeting every year at COP-1 in Berlin in 1995. During the two-week-long negotiations, nations come together to reach areas of consensus on important climate change issues and to set a pathway for the world to limit the dangerous consequences of global warming.

2.  Even though negotiations take place every year, COP-21 is different. Nations have a unique opportunity in Paris to reach a climate agreement that applies to all nations.

To learn more about COP21, go to

Previous COPs have led to this moment. The 1997 COP-3 in Kyoto, Japan produced the Kyoto Protocol, under which developed countries agreed to limit carbon emissions. COP-13 in Bali produced the roadmap for a post-Kyoto agreement. Copenhagen’s 2009 COP-15 resulted in a commitment to limit warming to two degrees Celsius. And COP-17 in Durban, South Africa set a path toward the universal agreement countries aim to achieve in Paris. The stage is set, and the agreement is within sight, if countries seize the opportunity.

What's different this time? Approximately 180 countries have come forward with contributions to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and never before have so many countries, both developed and developing, made such commitments.

America’s leadership has helped mobilize this level of international action -- under President Obama, the United States is taking significant steps to cut carbon pollution at home. Since the President took office, the U.S. produces three times more wind energy and 20 times more solar. The U.S. is doubling the distance our cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025. And the Clean Power Plan, the most significant step ever taken by the United States to combat climate change, will cut carbon pollution from the power sector -- which makes up a third of U.S. emissions -- 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Because the United States is taking serious action at home, other nations are treating climate action with new urgency. In the past year, the United States has made bilateral announcements with China, Brazil, and India, with each country agreeing to take significant action to cut its own carbon pollution.

3.  The Administration, including President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, is all-in for an ambitious agreement.

President Barack Obama speaks about his Clean Power Plan in the East Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., August 3, 2015 [AP Photo]


First, the agreement should be inclusive of all countries. Second, the agreement should put in place a long-term framework for countries to ratchet up their targets over time in a transparent way, with high standards of accountability and with a view to achieving a low-carbon transformation by the end of the century. Third, the agreement should mobilize ongoing financial and technical support for low-carbon development and climate adaptation for countries most in need.

4.  Now is the time to act -- and the world is ready.

Firefighters battle a wildfire that consumed more than 18,000 acres near Fresh Pond, California, September 17, 2014 [AP Photo]

Every nation on Earth is feeling the impacts of climate change today. From stronger storms to deeper droughts; from more extreme wildfires to more frequent floods; from sea level rise to more extreme temperatures -- climate change threatens people’s health, the economy, and national security in every country. Fortunately, world leaders increasingly understand the urgency for action, as evidenced by the tremendous number of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted.

As President Obama said, we are the first generation to feel the effects of climate change, and the last that can do something about it. World leaders need to act now.

5.  Action in Paris is not the end of the journey, but a major milestone. Countries need to come back to the negotiating table periodically as technology improves and as markets change.

A man walks past solar trackers in South Burlington, Vermont, July 27, 2011 [AP Photo]


We’ve seen incredible advances in low-carbon technology over just the past few years, and we believe those trends will continue. For example, the solar industry is growing jobs faster than any other sector of the U.S. economy -- good-paying, middle-class jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Major companies around the world now know climate action is not only the right thing to do, but the profitable thing to do. Climate impacts threaten businesses’ raw materials, supply chains, facilities, and labor forces -- while climate action spurs innovation, creates jobs, and avoids costs.

That’s why major multinational corporations support climate action. Eighty-one companies with a combined market capitalization of more than $5 trillion have signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge. Brands like Walmart, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, and Google, are supporting a strong outcome in Paris, and setting ambitious, company-specific goals like reducing carbon emissions by as much as 50 percent, reducing water use by as much as 80 percent, and purchasing 100 percent renewable energy.

This December in Paris, the world has a unique opportunity to act. The need is clear. The time is now. Stay tuned to DipNote for updates throughout the negotiations, which run from November 30 through December 11, 2015.

About the Authors: Ann Hunter-Pirtle and Ashley Allen serve in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES).

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