What I learned at the Paris Climate Talks

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This past December, I had the opportunity to travel to Paris with a group of Washington University undergraduate and graduate students to observe the first week of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP21 negotiations. Leading up to the conference, we were each given a specific section of the negotiation text to study during the talks leading up to the conference and how this section ended up being represented in the final document. Given my previous experience in studying the use of mitigation-centered technologies such as Carbon Capture and Sequestration and their role in a global climate solution, I was assigned the mitigation section (Article III of the text). This text developed relatively quickly during the meetings leading up to COP 21, with the body outlining the process by which countries will act both individually and collectively to curb carbon emissions to limit average temperature rise to 2°C above 1990 levels.

During the first week of the conference, I split my time between observing the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) negotiation sessions, which were used to craft a working document to be finalized for negotiation in the second week, and side events related to mitigation and other topics of interest to me. Throughout the work under the ADP during the first week of COP21, the negotiations surrounding the mitigation section of the text appeared to converge on the general concepts of differentiation and the goal of quantified and economy-wide emissions reductions targets for all parties. Differentiation, or “common but differentiated responsibilities,” is a key tenet of the UNFCCC and is the concept that all countries have a responsibility to their people and to the global community to combat climate change, but includes the recognition that each party has unique capabilities to do so and has contributed to the climate problem to varying degrees, as is characterized by their historic cumulative carbon emissions.

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