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What is COP21 and the Paris Agreement?

Over the last few few weeks the leaders from hundreds of countries around the world have been meeting in Paris as part of COP21. This is one of the most important global meetings about climate change ever, and – at the end of hours of discussion – 195 countries signed up to a momentous new pact.

What is COP21, and who was there?

COP21 stands for Conference of the Parties, and the 21 means this is the 21st such conference to happen.

The parties in question are the countries that signed up to another important accord – the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Logo of the COP21 global meeting on climate change in Paris
After over two weeks of discussion, debate and talks, the Paris Agreement was finally decided at the COP21 meeting on climate change

Leaders from these countries attended over two weeks of talks, presentations and discussions, hearing from many different experts on a range of subjects. Everything from the science of climate change to the impact it could have on people, wildlife and places was covered.



Why is the Paris Agreement important?

There have been previous accords, and one of the most notable was developed in Kyoto in 1997. However, the USA pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, and although there have been other meetings and accords in the meantime many scientists and climate campaigners say they don’t go far enough and could lead to a raise in global temperatures of 2.7 degrees centigrade.

One of the key elements of the Paris Agreement was the agreement to keep global temperature change below 2 degrees centigrade.

The significance of this 2 degrees comes from the view of many climate change researchers that the most significant and dangerous effects of global climate change could be avoided if we can avoid raising global temperatures by more than 2 degrees from the level it was at before the industrial revolution. The effects include major sea level change, and increase in extreme weather events, droughts and more.

The Agreement is also important in that it recognises ‘the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.” This is a particularly crucial issue for many of the countries globally that are already suffering as a result of climate change. These are often small or poor countries.

For example, if you think of the devastating floods in Cumbria recently, spare a thought for the island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean. The entire country is less than 2 metres above sea level, and it’s already beginning to be flooded, with the government preparing the population to move to other nearby countries once the land becomes submerged – a modern day Atlantis.


The key points in the Paris Agreement

  1. Hold the global temperature increase due to climate change to below 2 degrees centigrade, and ‘endeavour to limit’ it even further to below 1.5 degrees.
  2. By between 2050 and 2100, limit the amount of greenhouse gasses we emit via human activity to a level that can be absorbed naturally by trees, soil and the oceans.
  3. Every 5 years, each country that has signed up to the pact must do a ‘stock take’ to see how they are doing in relation to their plans.
  4. Richer countries will support poorer countries with ‘climate finance’ that will help them move to renewable energy sources and deal with the impacts of climate change.

If you want to read more, there are some great summary pieces on the BBC, which includes videos, and the New York Times.

The COP21 website itself also has lots of information, webinars, images and more that are interesting to read and useful resources.

Photo of Arc du Triomphe in
The Eiffel Tower is lit up in honour of the COP21 climate change talks which took place in Paris in November and December 2015. Image from

What can you do?

The fact that there is now a new plan of action that so many countries have signed up for is incredible. But it’s not just down to governments and business. Each of us can and must play our part. Climate change is a problem that will affect every single person on the planet, and anything you can do, big or small, will help.

So try and lower the amount of energy you use, ensure your home has great insulation, recycle as much as you can, reduce the amount of resources you use and waste you produce – there are many simple, easy ways to make changes.
The more each of us does to help, the bigger a difference we’ll be able to make together. Don’t forget, there are lots of helpful resources and tips on Roots & Shoots!

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