The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference opens in Paris today. This is the 21st ‘Conference of the Parties’ or COP since the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
Since then each year, without fail, governments have discussed when, where and how much to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to engage in the mitigation of and, increasingly, adaptation to the impacts of climate change.
Here is a short overview of articles that were posted on 29 November in three major Western media outlets from the United Kingdom, The United States and Australia. This summary comes from The Guardian, New York Times and Sydney Morning Herald (online editions).
The Paris climate protests on Sunday 30 November were largely silent. After the 13 November terror attacks and the state of emergency introduced by President Hollande, demonstrations are banned.
At Place de la République, where the monument is still surrounded by messages of grief and the scent of roses, activists gathered in the morning. Several thousand pairs of shoes were placed to draw attention to the ban on demonstrations. A few hours later, some people tried to march, but were stopped by a massive contingent of police who barred all the roads exiting the place.
The debate about climate change is almost thirty years old. Endless time and energy has already been spent in unproductive ways: discussing whether climate change actually exists, whether humans contribute to global warming, whether the risks that come with global warming are real and then whether we need to cut down on emissions.
These questions are settled, but many important questions remain to be open for discussion in climate science and climate politics. The upcoming summit in Paris draws our attention towards tackling the challenges associated with climate change in the present, rather than repeating discussions from the past. Part of this is to reclaim the attribute of being “skeptical” as an essential feature of good science. Yet, wise scientists will attempt to direct their skepticism to hypotheses which are not properly grounded in empirical evidence. Continuing the old debate is only in the interest of those actors who feel they need to protect their vested interests in oil, coal and gas and the attached industries with the aim of blocking effective limits to our carbon emissions.