Start of climate talks in Paris

The UN’s COP21 climate change talks began today in Paris.

Delegates from 195 countries are due to finalise an agreement to cut global emissions and reduce reliance on fossil fuels in an effort to combat global warning (1).

The world’s two largest emitters, China and the US, are both supportive of a deal in Paris – a key change from the last significant climate summit in Copenhagen in 2009, where China was seen by many as a major obstacle to progress (2).

Smog levels spiked today in Beijing, leading to the government raising its air pollution alert to orange for the first time in 13 months, highlighting the environmental challenges facing China as President Xi Jinping arrives in Paris. Public outrage over air pollution has been a catalyst for China’s transformation into a driving force for a breakthrough deal in Paris (3).

David Cameron is demanding wealthy countries give more foreign aid to halt climate change as he calls for world leaders to back legally binding agreements at the Paris talks. The UK prime minister is also expected to urge businesses do more to tackle pollution as he warns that “climate change is too large for governments alone to deal with” (4).

One such private sector group is the Breakthrough Energy Coalition which includes Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Mukesh Ambani and other billionaires with a remit to push for billions of dollars of new private and public investment in “clean energy”.

The group is vowing to build on government research with their own capital to help commercialise low-emission technology, bridging what they call a “near impassable valley of death” between promising concepts and viable products (5).

The scientific consensus is that the delegates should clearly spell out a goal to cut emissions sharply by 2050 and phase out fossil fuel production to stop irreversible changes to the climate as many companies note clear emissions targets would offer a better signal to guide investments. Unfortunately, as the UN accord must be agreed by consensus, it remains to be seen if a long-term emissions goal will make it into the final agreement.