DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ask most people what the annual United Nations climate talks are about and the likely answer will be: "Huh?" Ask those who know and the answer may be: "Why should I care?"
The talks, called the Conference of the Parties, are about two weeks long and are their 28th iteration in Dubai. The delegates use strange words like “NDC” “1.5 degrees” and “loss and damage”, which are not conversation starters in parties. Any final decision is non-binding, meaning countries can agree on something and then not act on it. And when tens of thousands of people go to events, a lot of greenhouse gas emissions are created, which is contrary to the whole point of the conference.
so why bother?
Even many climate observers sometimes ask this question, and there is growing debate over whether the current process needs major reforms. But viewed with a longer lens – and with the provision that progress often comes at a slower pace than would be expected with a dramatic event and impact – there are many reasons why negotiations could prove worthwhile.
they exert peer pressure
Pressure for compliance (in a public forum) is an important part of the COP – as is the development of "nationally determined contributions", known as NDCs.
These are plans by individual countries to reduce their use of oil, gas and coal, which produce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and outline how they will mitigate the effects of extreme weather events. Plan to adapt.
These plans are required by all countries that signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, which is arguably the most important conference of the parties to date. The plans are public, setting broad goals that industries and individuals in the countries concerned can view, while also providing other countries and news organizations the opportunity to scrutinize them. Countries are encouraged to update their plans and "raise ambition" and are expected to place a level of peer pressure on nations to deliver on promises.
they generate clear goals
This is something that individual institutions sometimes have trouble doing.
The Paris Agreement established a defined goal that has guided climate discussions ever since: cut emissions from the burning of fossil fuels to ensure that average global temperatures remain within 2 °C (3.6 °F) of pre-industrial times. Do not exceed, and ideally do not go over. 1.5 °C (2.7 °F). Currently, temperatures have increased by about 1.2 °C (2.2 °F).
As extreme weather events driven by climate change have increased and intensified, climate scientists have emphasized limiting warming to 1.5. These days, every discussion about climate change takes 1.5 into account.
For example, that 1.5 guide is at the center of the Biden administration's climate goals, which include the Inflation Reduction Act in the United States, the largest climate legislation in US history that is investing billions of dollars in the green energy transition.
It is also used as the lens through which many decisions are viewed. When oil companies announce plans to begin new drilling projects that will cap oil and gas production for decades, policymakers can and do criticize the plans for not staying within the 1.5 target. This does not necessarily prevent oil companies or anyone from making decisions against the target. Still, it provides a frame of reference, which is powerful.
they create arguments
Deciding how to talk about something can be an important part of getting work done.
Last year's climate talks in Egypt, COP27, led to a historic agreement for rich countries to contribute to a fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change. For decades, environmental activists had argued that the "Loss and Damages" fund was necessary because rich countries, which were industrializing with fossil fuels, were largely responsible for climate change, while developing countries would suffer the most. Because they did not have the resources. To cope with floods, heat waves, prolonged droughts and other manifestations of a warming world.
The initial discussion of loss and damage at the COP was always marginalized, not even on the official agenda. This changed last year, as the topic, and thus the decisions, became the focus of the summit.
In a broader sense, many discussions of climate today, from reducing emissions to paying for the transition to green energy like wind and solar, are woven around the idea that rich countries are historically responsible for the current situation. and thus paying is a moral imperative. More to face it.
They promote slow but solid progress
The slow pace of discussions, with no binding decisions or ways to implement agreements, may seem like a formula for failure in a world accustomed to visible, sometimes showy resolutions.
However, after nearly 30 years of summits, the results can be cautiously optimistic. For example, 10 years ago the world was on track to warm by 4 °C (7.2 °F) by 2100 due to greenhouse gas emissions levels that scientists say would lead to catastrophic extremes.
Today, models suggest the world is warming by 2 to 2.5 degrees Celsius. This is still well beyond the 1.5 target and poses a threat to humans; When it comes to extremes, tenths of a degree matter a lot.
But overall, humanity is on a much better path. While many factors have been involved in flattening the curve on emissions – technological advances, environmental legislation in many countries, a move towards electric vehicles, among other things – the UN climate talks have undoubtedly been a central factor.
There is no other option
Ultimately, the COP is the only game in town.
Even though none of the above may be reassuring, the reality is that the world currently has no other way to collectively address climate change. Consider how difficult it can be for two people to agree on something. How about 200 countries?
The process of the Conference of the Parties gives every country in the world, whether rich or poor, big or small, a seat at the table to discuss how climate change is impacting them and what they believe. How should the world face this? They provide a platform for people from all walks of life to exchange ideas, from young environmentalists and indigenous activists to bankers and leaders from multiple industries.
Awkward speeches, lots of discussion and disagreement will continue with the hope of tackling climate change. It is a conversation starter at parties.
Peter Prengmann is climate news director for The Associated Press. AP climate and environment coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP's climate initiative Here, AP is solely responsible for all content.